We study the relations between synaptic plasticity and changes to perception and behavior. We use a range of techniques to ask two main questions.
1. Neural circuitry and plasticity of mammalian social behavior.
What neural changes occur to support maternal behavior? Social interactions, such as pair bond formation and child rearing, are fundamental aspects of animal and human behavior. Positive parent-child interactions are critical for normative child development, and child neglect can have drastic, life-long consequences on physical and mental health. We focus on the circuits and molecular cues (e.g., hypothalamic hormones such as oxytocin) involved in childbirth and child care.
2. Neuromodulation and plasticity of cortical excitatory-inhibitory balance
How do we learn the meaning of acoustic inputs? Plasticity is an important feature of the auditory cortex, especially for processing the behavioral significance of sensory signals such as speech, music and other forms of communication. Mechanisms of cortical plasticity seem to be disrupted in learning impairments and language disorders; conversely, engaging these mechanisms by training programs and prosthetic devices will help repair damaged brains in pathological conditions. We are interested in similarities and differences between various modulatory systems that support plasticity, learning, and memory. We have a particular interest in how the central auditory system adapts to cochlear implant signals.