The National Academy of Sciences has awarded Catherine Dulac, the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the Pradel Research Award for her research on the neural basis of social behavior in mice. Established in 2012, this $50,000 award is presented annually to a mid-career neuroscientist whose work majorly contributes to understanding the nervous system.
“I feel particularly honored and humbled by this award,” said Dulac. “I want to acknowledge the contribution of present and former lab members, as well as the support of my colleagues in and out of Harvard. Our discoveries resulted from much hard work, as well as great enjoyment during our scientific journey.”
Dulac’s lab uses molecular, genetic, and electrophysiological techniques to explore the molecular and neuronal basis of mice’s innate social behaviors—including pheromone signaling, genomic imprinting in the brain, and the role of this mode of epigenetic modification in brain development and adult brain function, which has direct implications for understanding evolution and disease.
The National Academy of Sciences is specifically recognizing Dulac’s work with the vomeronasal organ (VNO)—a small structure at the base of the nasal cavity that senses pheromones. Over the course of her research Dulac developed a genetic method to identify expressed genes in individual neurons and isolated a gene family for VNO receptors, allowing her to investigate the role pheromones play in social interactions between the sexes. Her work showed that the neuronal pathways that lead to mating start in the olfactory system instead of the VNO, and further defined the sensory organ’s function. Mainly, the VNO helps male mice distinguish between the sexes of their species, and represses certain sex-based behaviors. In recent work she uncovered the role of specific neuronal populations in the control of parental behavior.
Dulac earned a Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of Paris in 1991, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University where she identified the first genes encoding mammalian pheromone receptors. Dulac joined MCB in 1996 and was promoted to full professor in 2001. She is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and served as MCB Chair from 2007 until 2013.
Read more on the National Academy of Sciences website.