Washington, D.C. – Johannes Kohl has been named the 2018 winner of the first prize in the annual international competition for the Eppendorf & Science award for neurobiology, for research that has a sense of how a group of neurons controls parental behavior in mice.
Kohl's winning essay, "Circuits for care", highlights the function of a small population of neurons located in the mid-preoptic area (MPOA) of the hypothalamus (a portion of the brain that shares common characteristics with other vertebrates). Kohl cleared the MPOA neurons carrying a molecule called galanin, which had previously been identified as critical for parental behavior in both men and women. Using mouse models and imaging techniques (to record the activity of specific neurons in rodents), Kohl studied the processes underlying the ability of MPOA neurons to control complex behavior.
"I started my project by tracing the connections that MPOA neurons express galanine (or MPOAGal) to the rest of the brain," Kohl said. This revealed that MPOAGal neurons are organized in separate pools, or subpopulations, each projected onto a different brain area. Each pool had access to incoming information from around 20 brain areas. He then studied the neuronal pools that were crucial for parental behavior, identifying pools that were most highly activated when mice interacted with their pups.
Kohl established that while the entire MPOAGal population became active during all aspects of parenting, surprisingly, individual pools were activated during discrete parental events, suggesting that they controlled specific components of parenting. The pools included those that projected to brain regions such as the periaqueductal gray (PAG, which is involved in motor control), the ventral tegmental area (VTA, an area involved in the drug and natural reward circuit) and the medial amygdala (MeA, known to play a role in innate emotional behaviors).
Activation of PAG projection MPOAGal neurons suppress the direct aggression of puppies in some male mice and increase the grooming of puppies in both sexes, suggesting that this pool controls an important motor component of parenting. In contrast, the VTA projectile neuronal pool activation did not directly affect pup interactions. Understanding that greater motivation to interact with children is a hallmark of parents' animals, Kohl has inserted a scalable barrier between mice and test kittens.
Activation of the VTA projectile pool dramatically increased the frequency with which animals crossed to the puppy's compartment, suggesting that the pool influenced the motivation to interact with children. Finally, activating the MPOAGal neurons that project to MeA are not interested in pup interactions nor the motivation to interact with puppies. Kohl unexpectedly observed that this manipulation suppressed interactions with adult mice in both males and females, indicating that this group could indirectly promote parenthood by suppressing non-parental social behaviors.
"This research is significant because it sheds light on the brain circuits that has shaped such important traits as parental behavior," said senior science editor Dr. Peter Stern.
Kohl said that while "it is too early to know whether these results are directly applicable to human beings ̵
In man, parental care is affected by stress and mental illnesses such as depression and postpartum anxiety, which together affect nearly 20% of mothers in the United States. Tackling how physiological states and environmental factors interact with these circuits could therefore open up new avenues for treating common mental illnesses.
Kohl said the next possible steps for his research will be "to find out how factors such as stress, sleep or hunger affect these circuits, and if other social behaviors are based on neural circuits that are similar in form and function to those identified for parenting. "
Johannes Kohl and the following finalists will be recognized at an awards ceremony in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neurosciences. The ceremony will be held at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego on Sunday evening, November 4, 2018.
Winner of the Grand Prix 2018
Johannes Kohl, for his essay "Circuits for care." Kohl graduated from the University of Magdeburg in Germany and his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Kohl is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Sainsbury Wellcome Center for neural circuits and behavior in London, where he explored the neural circuits underlying parenting. In the early 2019, Dr. Kohl will start his group at the Francis Crick Institute in London.
Finalists Tomasz Nowakowski, for his essay "Building blocks of the human brain". Nowakowski received his B.Sc (Hons.) And his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. He completed his postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Nowakowski is now an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, where his research group seeks to identify the molecular mechanisms underlying the specifics of cell fate and the formation of microcircuits in the cortex development.
Talia Lerner, for her essay "The effortless custody of automatism." Lerner received his B.S. in Biophysics and Molecular Biochemistry of Yale University and his Ph.D. in Neurosciences from the University of California, in San Francisco. He then conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University. Dr. Lerner is currently an associate professor at Northwestern University, where he is continuing his research on how dopamine circuits regulate reward learning and habit formation, and how individual differences in learning are better. architecture of the dopamine circuit contribute to the risk of mental disorders.
full text of the finalists essays and information on the application for next year's awards, consult the science website at http: // www.
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