Anita Autry, Harvard University
Parental care is essential for the survival and well-being of young, though parents or other adults sometimes show neglect or aggressive behavior toward infants. While maternal behavior has been studied extensively, agonistic behavior toward infants remains poorly understood. I will review work in which I participated that combined molecular, optogenetic, and behavioral techniques to understand how galanin neurons in the medial preoptic area control positive aspects of mouse parental behavior. Then I will describe my independent research project which expands on these approaches to uncover how a population of neurons in the perifornical area of hypothalamus (PeFA) expressing neuropeptide urocortin-3 (ucn3) governs agonistic infant-directed behavior. Prior studies have associated ucn3 PeFA neuronal activity with anxiety and stress-related behavior, though this circuit has not previously been to parental behavior. My findings suggest that ucn3 PeFA neurons govern the negative regulation of parental behavior in a physiologically relevant manner. My research goal is to define the anatomy and function of this novel behavioral circuit and to connect the anatomy with infant-directed behavior in various physiological states.