Social behavior is composed of a variety of distinct forms of interactions and is fundamental to survival. Several neural circuits must act in concert to allow for such complex behavior to occur and perturbations, either genetic and/or environmental, underlie many psychiatric and neurodevelopment disorders. The Walsh lab focuses on gaining an improved understanding of the biological basis of behavior using a multi-level approach to elucidate the molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying motivated social behavior. The goal of our research is to uncover how neural systems govern social interactions and what alterations occur in disease states to inform the development of novel therapeutics or treatment strategies.
One of the major focuses of the Walsh lab is on understanding how genetic mutations, as well as experience, lead to circuit adaptations that govern impaired behavior seen in mouse models of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Our systems level analysis includes: 1) modeling these disorders with well described genetic markers, 2) defining causal relationships between activity within discrete anatomical structures in the brain that are critical to the physiology of the symptom under investigation (e.g. sociability), 3) performing deep characterization of the physiological profiles of these circuits and using that information to target specific receptors or molecules that may not have been considered for the treatment of specific ASD symptoms.