Species differences in neuropeptides and social behavior

I conducted field work in South America in order to compare the oxytocin receptor systems of social and nonsocial with the genus Ctenomys -- a species-rich group of burrowing rodents known as tuco-tucos. My initial work focused on a solitary and a social species that share similar habitats in the Limay river valley of Argentina. I am currently studying a broader range of tuco-tucos from Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru.

Beery AK, Lacey EA, Francis DD (2008) Oxytocin and vasopressin receptor distributions in a solitary and a social species of tuco-tuco (Ctenomys sociabilis and Ctenomys haigi). Journal of Comparative Neurology. 507: 1847-1859.

Non-sexual affiliative behavior in group-living voles

In my graduate work I used meadow voles as a model of environmentally regulated social bonding. Female meadow voles are territorial during the summer reproductive season, but huddle in groups in the winter. Day length variation in the laboratory induces a behavioral shift in huddling behavior, and this allowed me to explore the proximate mechanisms that affect social bonding between same-sex individuals including the roles of estradiol, oxytocin, and their receptors.

Beery AK, Routman DM, Zucker I. (2009). Same-sex social behavior in meadow voles: multiple and rapid formation of attachments.  Physiology & Behavior. 97: 52-57

Beery AK, Loo TJ, Zucker I (2008). Day length and estradiol affect same-sex affiliative behavior in the female meadow vole. Hormones & Behavior.  54:153-159

(2 additional articles in prep)

Gene-environment interactions and brain development

I am currently studying how early life experience and environment affect long-term regulation of gene expression and behavior by epigenetic and other mechanisms.  Exposure of rat pups to high or low levels of maternal care-giving in the first few days of life can alter the regulation of stress-reactivity into adulthood.  These changes in behavior accompany changes in glucocorticoid receptor gene expression and DNA methylation among others.  I am using this model to explore several aspects of phenotypic plasticity in response to external circumstances.