Parallel processing pathways have been identified in both sensory and reward circuits of the brain, and are thought to dramatically expand the network capabilities of system. Building on these organizational principles, we have proposed that magnocellular oxytocin and parvocellular oxytocin neurons subserve two parallel streams of social information processing, which allow a single molecule to encode a diverse array of ethologically distinct behaviors. Recently we have carried out the first comprehensive characterization of magnocellular and parvocellular OT neurons, validated across transcriptional, anatomical, projection target, and electrophysiological criteria. Our results constrain existing circuit models, and reveal new connections of OT neurons to brain regions that are involved in mediating peer-peer social reward learning in mice. Furthermore, social domain specific impairments we observed in Fmr1 KO ASD model mice are recapitulated following acute deletion of Fmr1 in an OT cell type specific manner. Since single cell RNA sequencing analysis revealed that ASD risk genes are enriched in parvocellular but not magnocellular OT neurons, these studies are the first to implicate a cell type specific pathogenic mechanism across a broad range of ASD etiologies.
Gül Dölen, M.D./Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department Neuroscience and the Brain Science Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Dölen joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2014 after completing M.D./Ph.D. training at Brown University and MIT, where she did seminal work on the mGluR theory of Fragile X and Autism with Dr. Mark Bear, followed by the paradigm shifting work on neural circuits of social behavior she did as a postdoc at Stanford University with Dr. Robert Malenka. The principle research focus of Dr. Dölen’s laboratory is to understand how plasticity and neuromodulation govern social behavior in health and disease (www.dolenlab.org). Their studies of psychedelic drugs in evolutionarily distant species like octopus, have revealed that these drugs target ancient mechanisms that have been conserved for hundreds of millions of years (Edsinger and Dölen, Current Biology, 2018). Recently, her laboratory has made the groundbreaking discovery that MDMA can reopen a novel critical period of brain plasticity in mice (Nardou et, al., Nature, 2019). Building on this discovery, Dr. Dölen has initiated the PHATHOM project (Psychedelic Healing: Adjunct Therapy Harnessing Opened Malleability; www.phathomproject.org), which aims to test the hypothesis that psychedelic drugs as a class act to reopen multiple critical periods across the brain, and that this property can be harnessed for therapeutic benefit.
She is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including the: Sigma Xi Outstanding Research Award, Joukowsky Family Foundation Award, Conquer Fragile X Foundation Rising Star Award, and Society for Social Neuroscience Early Career Award. She has also received the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award, the Klingenstein-Simons Award, and the Searle Scholars award. Dr. Dölen is also a member of the Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, and she serves as an Executive Advisory Board Member for the International Arts and Mind laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine.
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