Stress and fear enable us to flexibly adapt to conditions in our environment, contributing to our success and survival. However, in cases of prolonged or extreme psychogenic stress, this normally advantageous system can exert detrimental effects on the brain and behavior, giving rise to disturbances in mental health such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, and social isolation.
Research in the Zelikowsky lab investigates the brain circuits and neural mechanisms underlying stress. We use cutting-edge, genetically-targeted molecular tools and techniques to identify, manipulate, and image from specific populations of neurons across a number of brain regions. These techniques are combined with in depth behavioral testing and computational analyses to dissect neural circuits and elucidate the role and function of particular cell populations within them.
Taking this molecular-behavioral approach, we ask questions such as how does the brain encode a single traumatic event? What does the brain look like after an extended period of social isolation? Can we target particular brain regions, cell populations, or signaling molecules to reverse the damaging effects of stress on behavior? In striving to answer these questions, we aim to better understand the brain and behavior, as well as potentially identify novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of mental health disorders.