Innate behaviors such as feeding behavior and mating behavior are complex behaviors that can be observed in naïve animals. The fact that these behaviors can be elicited without any previous experience suggests that neural circuits underlying these complex behaviors are genetically hardwired. My postdoctoral work (Xu et al., Cell 2012) shows that certain genetic mutations affect individual components of specific innate behaviors. Based on these findings, my group uses molecular genetic approach, stereotactic viral injection and behavioral assays to study the neural circuits underlying innate behaviors. In the future we wish to extend our techniques to in vivo recording in live behaving animals. Specifically, we are interested in:
Dissect the role of specific hypothalamic cell type in innate behaviors
We will use genetic tools to activate or inhibit specific hypothalamic cell populations and test their roles in innate behaviors.
Trace the neural circuits for innate behaviors
We will trace the projections and connections of hypothalamic cells that are shown to regulate innate behaviors.
Neural plasticity in innate behaviors
We will study how past experience or previous encounters modify innate behaviors and the cellular mechanism underlying such behavioral plasticity.
Neuromodulation of innate behaviors
We will study how internal state of an animal affect the manifestation of innate behaviors and the cellular mechanism underlying such neural modulation.