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Venture Grant Research Projects

CBN supports high-risk, innovative research projects through its Venture Grant program consisting of awards up to $30,000 per project for up to one year. The primary purpose of the program is fund new investigators and to provide seed money for projects that will be used to obtain grants through other mechanisms. Proposals must be cross-disciplinary and involve two or more CBN investigators.

Current Projects

The role of play fighting in the development of sex differences

It is well established that perinatal sex steroid exposure is necessary for many mammals, including humans, to display male-typical behaviors. Although perinatal sex steroid exposure is necessary, it may not be sufficient. Hormone-driven juvenile experience may also play a role in masculinization. The purpose of this study is to rigorously test the hypothesis that hormone-driven social experience is unnecessary for masculinization.

Voxel based morphometry and fiber tracking in small animals using high field MRI

The goal of this proposal is to assess the sensitivity and reliability of MRI methods including Voxel Based Morphometry (VBM) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to assess structural and functional changes in anatomy in post-mortem rodent brains.

Molecular mechanisms mediating social modulation of circadian rhythmicity

The aim of this project is two-fold: to test the hypothesis that social cues influence circadian rhythms via altering the expression of clock genes in the suprachiasmatic nucleus and, secondly, to apply circadian biology techniques used almost exclusively in mammals to a non-traditional, comparative model system.

The effect of oxytocin on social cognition in nonhuman primates

Recent human studies suggest that an intranasal administration route may effectively allow entry into the central nervous system, but this has never been measured directly. We will compare the ability of intranasal and intravenous doses of oxytocin (Syntocinon) to enter the cerebrospinal fluid of rhesus monkeys, and if successful, we will further measure its effect on social cognition and behavior.

Physiological responsiveness to sexual stereotypes in music videos and its association with sexual attitudes and behaviors

This project will examine whether exposure to stereotypical sexual imagery in music videos is associated with differential brain activation and physiological responsiveness in men and women as compared to exposure to neutral and/or non-stereotypical sexual imagery; and whether this reactivity is associated with sexual attitudes and sexual behaviors.

The role of sleep in maintaining conditioned defeat

This project will use the conditioned defeat model to examine the role of sleep changes in maintaining the behavioral response to social stress.

Status dependent neural encoding of socially relevant olfactory stimuli

The aim of the proposed study is to determine how social status can modulate the neuronal encoding of socially relevant olfactory stimuli within the MePD and BLA, utilizing electrophysiology to investigate specific dynamic and temporal changes in both single-unit and population neuronal responses in awake, behaving Syrian hamsters.

Does oxytocin mediate social memories of communication vocalizations?

The goal of this project is to determine whether oxytocin also mediates the memory of social cues from other modalities, such as audition. This will be investigated in mice, using the pup-mother ultrasound communication system as the social context. Using two behavioral assays, we will determine whether wild-type but NOT oxytocin receptor knockout mothers can discriminate distinct pup calls without using olfactory cues.

Vocal cues to ovulation in humans and giant pandas

Former observations suggest that hormone-related changes in female vocal folds may provide acoustic cues to reproductive state, and that conspecifics, especially males, will be sensitive to such cues. These hypotheses will be tested in humans and giant pandas, species from whom we can record vocal samples from females in known hormonal states, that both show evidence of hormonally mediated vocal effects that have not been tested directly.

Plasticity of auditory communication pathways leading to recovery from hearing loss

After partial hearing loss, plasticity in auditory cortex promotes recovery, but can also lead to cross-modal takeover by visual inputs.  We propose that takeover of auditory cortical function can be prevented- and recovery improved- by auditory training. An invasive analysis is necessary to understand the mechanism of training-induced recovery, thus we will develop animal models using multielectrode array recording techniques to analyze recovery, in parallel with behavioral assessment/training.

Children’s aggression, social cognition, and oxytocin and vasopressin genes

Behavior genetic studies suggest that aggression is moderately heritable, implying a search for candidate genes would be fruitful. In a sample of 200 children and their families, we propose to integrate social cognitive assessments with tests of associations between oxytocin and vasopressin candidate genes and various aggression-related phenotypes. We will use contemporary bioinformatic tools and high-throughput genotyping to capture the majority of genetic variation, and test for association with aggression-related phenotypes and sex differences therein.


Effects of orbital frontal cortex, hippocampal, or amygdala lesions on safety signal learning in non-human primate

Using a novel conditioned inhibition procedure, this project will evaluate safety signal learning in rhesus monkeys that have sham lesions or lesions of either the hippocampus, orbital frontal cortex, and lesions of the amygdala.

Role of central oxytocin in maternal and affiliative behavior in rhesus monkeys: effect of a non-peptide oxytocin antagonist

This project will test the hypothesis that an oxytocin antagonist (L368,899), recently shown to cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) after peripheral injection, will lead to a dose-dependent decrease in maternal and affiliative behaviors in female rhesus monkeys.

CREB signaling in pheromone-dependent olfactory recognition memory

The goal of this project is to investigate CREB involvement in AOB dynamics by using immunohistochemistry, blotting and in vivo antisense technology.

Neural mechanisms of emotion perception and their relationship to empathy in autism spectrum disorders and typical development

This project will examine the neural mechanisms underlying emotion perception, and the relationship between empathy and this network using fMRI and diffusion tensor imaging during an emotion perception task with individuals with autism spectrum disorders and typical individuals to investigate emotion perception in specific regions of interest (ROIs), such as amygdala, superior temporal sulcus, and anterior cingulate, and in the connections between these ROIs.

Affiliative behavior in rhesus macaques: A multi-method approach

This project is an association analysis of 250 rhesus macaques that will determine the degree to which variation in behavioral and central neurochemical phenotypes is accounted for by specific candiate genes (SERT, MAOA, DRD4, V1aR) and the social environment. This is one of the first behavioral genetics studies of this size in non-human primates, and will provide a database for investigators interested in studying specific genetic influences on behavioral and physiological phenotypes.

Neural substrates of cross-modal integration of socio-emotional cues: a PET imaging study in nonhuman primates

This project will combine eye-tracking and PET imaging techniques with a preferential looking task to investigate in rhesus macaques the neural network mediating cross-modal integration of socially salient cues, a cognitive process critical in self-regulation of social behavior.

Molecular Mechanisms for Status Memory

This project will test the role of BDNF and its receptor tyrosine kinase receptor B (TrkB) in the memory of social status in Anolis carolinensis (green anole lizards) and expand techniques used in mammalian molecular biology to comparative systems.

Development of a Method for Selectively Lesioning Discrete Nuclei Within the Central Nucleus of the Amygdala

This project will develop procedures that can be used to selectively lesion the medial, but not lateral, nucleus of the amygdala, and vice versa. Furthermore, the project will use these procedures to test the hypothesis that phasic fear responses are mediated by the CeAM and sustained fear responses involve the CeAL.

Impact of Early Adversity on the CNS Oxytocin System: Relevance for Psychopathology

This project will (a) validate intranasal oxytocin challenge as a method to access the human brain and (b) develop functional neuroimaging paradigms aimed at social cognition that uncover deficits after early adversity.

The Role of Genetic Sex and Prolactin in Organizing Sleep Responses to Stress

Using a unique and powerful mouse model in which the hormonal and genetic profiles are discordant, this project will examine the genetic influence that PRL plays in influening sleep and its effects on acute stress on the sleep-wake cycle.

Effects of menstrual cycle phase and intranasal oxytocin on gaze duration and focus in women viewing pictures of erotic and attachment content

This study will examine the responsiveness of females to "sexual" and "attachment" photos following intranasal administration of oxytocin.

Searching for the genetic basis of aggression in termites (Reticulitermes sp) and developing techniques and teaching module for the behavioral sciences

The goals of this project are to develop a behavioral assay to measure aggression in individual termites and to examine whether there are genetic correlates to observed behavioral differences.

Disentangling pathways for reward and fear in the amygdala

This project will investigate the anatomical basis, using immediate early gene expression and tract tracing combined with behavior, of how inputs and outputs of the basolateral amygdala either increase or decrease acoustic startle amplitude. The goal is to gain insight into how a single brain structure, the amygdala, can be involved in both positive and negative valence.

Sexually dimorphic regulation of the nucleus paragigantocellularis: Potential role in reproductive behavior

This project will use retrograde tract tracing in combination with Fos immunocytochemistry to test whether hypothalamic afferents to the nucleus paragigantocellularis are activated during sexual behavior, providing a potential anatomical circuit for the modulation of female genital reflexes.

A computerized testing system to investigate sex differences in rhesus monkey visual cognition

This project will investigate sex differences in large social groups of rhesus monkeys using the automated testing system that was recently developed. This computerized system provides monkeys with 24-hour access to touch-screen based cognitive testing without human intervention.

The role of early experience of maternal care and HPA-related genetic polymorphisms in the development of infant cortisol reactivity: human and non-human primates

This project will compare the effects of early maternal care on phenotypic expression of serotonin receptor genes in humans and non-human primates.

Imaging medial temporal lobe activity related to memory and emotion in awake behaving monkeys

This project will develop a technique of using functional MRI to study the roles of the hippocampus and amygdala in emotion and memory in awake, behaving rhesus macaques.

Retention in research for women and minorities

This project will compare structured research experiences with traditional laboratory apprenticeships in their effects on undergraduate student attitudes, learning and retention in science programs over a four-year period.




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