Research

Our lab answers questions from the molecular-genetic level to the behavioral level using a wide variety of techniques, including advanced molecular and cellular methods, pharmacology, electrophysiology, optogenetics, chemogenetics (DREADDs), optical imaging and complex behavioral analyses. The advantage of this type of approach is that it leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the neural, molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying affective disorders, for which our current understanding is woefully inadequate.

How do memories change over time? How does experience or sex hormones alter memory encoding or recall? One of the main focuses of the lab is to discover how neural systems support changes in memories that promote generalized fear- fear that arises occurs in response to non-threatening contexts or cues. Generalization can be thought of as a loss of memory precision for context or cues. Thus, we approach this question, in part, with a learning and memory perspective. Although most generalization is adaptive, generalized fear can be maladaptive and is a major symptom of many anxiety disorders that often goes untreated.

As essential as fear is to an organism’s survival, so too is an organism’s ability to inhibit fear. Work in the Jasnow lab strives to understand the neural systems supporting how animals learn to inhibit fear through extinction mechanisms and through safety learning. We are also pursuing how males and females learn to inhibit fear differently, including the neural and neuroendocrine mechanisms that underly these differences. Insufficient inhibition of fear can impair the execution of behaviors supporting survival in animals (e.g., foraging, reproduction), as well as interrupt daily human activities including eating, working, and socializing. Indeed, an inability to inhibit fearful responses to stimuli in humans can result in neuropsychiatric disorders such as specific phobias or more generalized fear disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder

Excessive associative fear is a hallmark symptom of many anxiety disorders and phobias. These disorders frequently co-occur with substance abuse or mood dysregulation, severely complicating treatment and the recovery process. A major challenge to understanding and treating co-morbid substance abuse and emotional disorders is identifying how brain regions involved in reward may integrate with neuronal circuits regulating the expression and extinction of conditioned aversive responses. We are also pursuing how early life stress exposure alters adult aversive and appetitive behavior in relation to anxiety disorders and substance abuse.


Funding

  • CURRENT
    • NIMH 1R21MH109942-01A1: Adrenal Androgens Regulate Aggression through Novel Actions of Melatonin
    • NIMH 1R15MH118705-01: Pathways regulating fear in the nucleus accumbens
  • PAST
    • Farris Family Foundation Award: Understanding Emotion: From Molecules to Mind
    • Whitehall Foundation Award: Neural Circuits Regulating Inhibition of Long-Term Fear Memories
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