We are social animals. Like most mammals, we engage in social interactions and activities important for our health and happiness, such as communicating, making friends, selecting mates, and raising children. These complex, essential behaviors are related to the function of specific neurochemical systems in the central nervous system- including oxytocin, noradrenaline, acetylcholine, and steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen- each of which is recruited under different behavioral conditions, arousal levels, and motivational states. These molecules exert powerful effects on neural networks, modulating and modifying synaptic connections between nerve cells to change how social identities, relationships, and the external world are represented in the brain. In the lab, we examine how individual synapses are changed by alterations in the patterns of neural activity, neurochemical signaling, and sensory experience. We combine electrophysiological recording, computational analysis, and behavioral experiments, aiming to discover basic principles and quantitative rules by which neural circuits and synapses of the mammalian cerebral cortex develop and are reorganized throughout life to affect perception and behavior.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Froemke’s lab is teaming up with the lab of Dan R. Littman, M.D., Ph.D., to explore new topics at the interface between neuroscience and immunology, employing techniques from one system to investigate the other. They will use novel tools to probe how the neuronal sensing of gut microbes and intestinal function can alter an animal’s behavior—work that could help map how information is relayed from the gut to the nervous system to promote recovery from an illness.