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There are three major questions currently being pursued in our laboratory:

How does stress rapidly alter an animal's behavior?

We are particularly interested in the effect of the stress hormones produced by the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis on behavior. Using optogenetic manipulation, we could recently show the crucial modulatory actions of pituitary corticotroph cell activity on locomotion, avoidance and stimulus responsiveness directly after the onset of stress. We combine state-of-art optogenetic and genetic manipulations with sophisticated behavioral analysis to unravel mechanisms by which HPA axis rapidly alters behavioral changes induced by stress. Further this analysis provides a platform that we use to identify novel molecular players that mediate the effect of HPA axis hormones on behavior.

How does stress exposure during development alter neural circuit structure and function?

We want to understand how early life stress exposure shapes animal's future stress response and behavior. While some exposure to stress during development can improve future performance, prolonged or severe stress exposure in early life can lead to an individual with compromised coping capacity. The focus of our analysis is the cells and circuits of the key stress-controlling region in the hypothalamus. Here we combine, early life stress exposure with in-depth anatomical, physiological and molecular analyses to discover new cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to adult fitness.

How is resilience and vulnerability to stress-induced disorders established?

Following chronic stress exposure, some individuals succumb to diseases while others do not show apparent behavioral normality. Given the burden of stress-induced disorders in modern society, understanding individual differences in stress-induced disorder has become more important than ever. Because zebrafish is cheap to maintain and breed large number of progeny, it provides a nice model organism to discern molecular basis of individual differences underlying resilience. This is one of the major future research areas, which is currently being established in the lab.

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