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Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Catherine Dulac

Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

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Peering Into the Social Brain

Our group is using molecular, genetic and electrophysiological techniques to explore the molecular and neuronal basis of innate social behaviors in the mouse. Two major lines of research are currently being pursued in the laboratory:

We are pursuing several projects at the molecular, cellular and systems levels in order to investigate the architecture and functional logic of neuronal circuits underlying social behaviors. The key questions we are addressing are: What are the sensory signals that trigger specific social behaviors? What are the brain areas involved in processing these signals and generating species- and sex-specific behaviors such as aggression, mating, parental behavior, defensive behavior? What is the molecular identity of the neurons involved, how are they connected to each other, and how are they modulated by the animal physiological state and its previous social experience? And finally, how do circuits underlying sex-specific behaviors differ in the male and female brains?

The second set of projects explores the phenomenon of genomic imprinting in the brain, and the role of this mode of epigenetic modification in brain development and adult brain function. Genomic imprinting results in preferential expression of the paternally, or the maternally inherited allele of certain genes. We have recently used a genome-wide approach to characterize the repertoire of imprinted genes in the mouse embryonic and adult CNS. Our study uncovered a large number of new loci with imprinted features, suggesting that imprinting is a major mode of epigenetic regulation in the brain. Imprinting appears to preferentially affect neural systems associated with social, motivational and homeostatic brain functions. Comparison of the imprinted gene repertoire in the adult hypothalamus and cortex, and in the developing brain demonstrates a complex spatiotemporal, species-, sex- and isoform-specific regulation. Genomic imprinting thus emerges as a major and dynamic mode of epigenetic regulation of brain function, with direct implications for the understanding of evolution and diseases. Future projects in the lab will aim at better understanding this mode of epigenetic regulation in mechanistic and functional terms

Selected Publications

Perez, J.D., Rubinstein, N.D., Fernandez, D.E., Santoro, S.W., Needleman, L.A., Ho-Shing, O., Choi, J.J., Zirlinger, M., Chen, S.K., Liu, J.S., Dulac, C. (2015) Quantitative and functional interrogation of parent-of-origin allelic expression biases in the brain. eLife 2015; doi: 10.7554/eLife.07860. [Epub 2015 Jul 3]

Wu, Z., Autry, A.E., Bergan, J.F., Watabe-Uchida, M. and Dulac, C. (2014) Galanin neurons in the medial preoptic area govern parental behavior. Nature 509:325-330.

Bergan, J.F., Ben-Shaul, Y. and Dulac, C. (2014) Sex-specific processing of social cues in the medial amygdala. eLife 2014;3:e02743.

Chalfin, L., Dayan, M., Levy, D.R., Austad, S.N., Miller, R.A., Iraqi, F.A., Dulac, C. and Kimchi, T. (2014) Mapping ecologically relevant social behaviours by gene knockout in wild mice. Nat Commun. 5:4569.

Dulac, C., O’Connell, and L.A.Wu, Z., (2014) Neural Circuits Underlying Parental Behavior. Science 345:765-70.

Santoro, S.W. and Dulac, C. (2012) The activity-dependent histone variant H2BE modulates the life span of olfactory neurons. elife 2012;1:e00070. doi: 10.7554/eLife.00070. Epub 2012 Dec 13

Isogai, Y., Si, S., Pont-Lezica, L., Tan, T., Kapoor, V., Murthy, V.N., Dulac, C. (2011) Molecular organization of vomeronasal chemoreception. Nature 478:241-5

Dani, A., Huang, B., Bergan, J., Dulac, C.* and Zhuang, X.* (2010) Super-resolution Imaging of Chemical Synapses in the Brain. Neuron 68: 843-56 *Corresponding authors

Gregg, C., Zhang, J., Weissbourd, B., Luo, S., Schroth, G.P., Haig, D. and Dulac, C. (2010) High Resolution Analysis of Parent-of-Origin Allelic Expression in the Mouse Brain. Science, 329: 643- 648

Gregg, C., Zhang, J., Butler, J.E., Haig, D. and Dulac, C. (2010) Sex-Specific Parent-of-Origin Allelic expression in the Mouse Brain. Science, 329: 682- 685

Dulac, C. (2010) Brain function and chromatin plasticity. Nature 465:728-735

Ben-Shaul, Y., Katz, L.C., Mooney R.M., & Dulac, C. (2010) In-vivo Vomeronasal Stimulation reveals Sensory Encoding of Conspecific and Allospecific Cues by the Mouse Accessory Olfactory Bulb. PNAS 107:5172-5177.