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Biology Professor receives grant from National Science Foundation

Posted Jun. 13, 2014

Dr. Heather Caldwell recently received a $400,000.00 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund her research. This research project will examine how prenatal hormones can reorganize brain circuits and impact behavior.  Understanding how these hormones work during development will provide important insights into the species-specific behaviors that underlie social behavior and social structure.  The goal of this project is to determine how the neurohormone oxytocin acts during development to organize neural structures important for displays of aggressive behavior in adulthood. The Project will use a combination of molecular, behavioral and pharmacological approaches to determine the developmental timing and distribution of oxytocin and the oxytocin receptor in the fetal mouse brain as well as how manipulation of the oxytocin signal during fetal development affects adult male aggressive behavior. As oxytocin and its homologues have evolutionarily conserved roles in the modulation of behavior, this work has implications for understanding the neural underpinnings of social behavior across species and will be the first to delve into the prenatal organizational effects of oxytocin on aggressive behavior. Further, the genes-to-behavior approach of this project is ideal for introducing students to scientific inquiry and to behavioral neuroendocrinology. The conceptual and methodological innovation of this project will allow the students to improve their neuroscience knowledge as well as learn numerous behavioral and molecular techniques.