“Neural Circuits Underlying Social Reinforcement”
Dr. Ebru Demir
Date/Time: Friday, February 28th, 12:40 pm
Place: Seminar Room, SC 106
Abstract: Organisms are very likely to have evolved neural mechanisms that optimize the choice of an appealing partner since the fitness of the species surrounds this mate choice. However, the results of the behavioral and neural circuit analyses of how social partners are assessed, predicted to be suitable, and ultimately chosen are yet to be understood. First, I will discuss our results pertaining to a territorial scent-reward and the neural circuitry that this reward uses to reinforce female behaviors. We characterized that darcin induces a complex behavioral repertoire that is non-stereotyped, variable, and state-dependent. We then identified the molecularly defined circuitry that integrates both sensory and internal variables to drive the reinforced and innate behaviors evoked by darcin, which are important functions for the species’ fitness. Second, I am interested in how darcin and other pheromones mediate social reinforcement. How is the reinforcement translated into social value signals that determine sexual choice? I wish to investigate the subjectivity underlying these social value signals with a neuro-economical perspective. I will further discuss our results pertaining to an interesting behavioral framework that I developed. This behavioral assay enables the estimation of subjective values that mice assign to prospective mates, a social-preference-based decision task. With this assay, I plan to map the internal measures underlying sexual choices to candidate brain regions and define neural circuits.
About the Speaker: Ebru Demir is a neuroscientist currently working as an Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University, Zuckerman Mind Brain and Behavior Institute. She is well known for her contributions to the field of social circuits, particularly for the discovery and subsequent characterization of the sex-specific circuit that is specified by a single gene. She found that a single gene, known as fruitless, sets the developmental program for a courtship ritual in the nervous system of the Drosophila melanogaster, fruit fly. Dr. Demir received her B.A. in Biology from the Middle East Technical University (METU), her M.S. in Molecular Biology and Genetics (MBG) from Bilkent University, and her Ph.D. in MBG from Vienna University. She then moved to the United States to join Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories for a short postdoctoral study to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying olfactory memories in fruit flies. She subsequently started working in her current position at the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Professor Richard Axel at Columbia University. She is the recipient of postdoctoral fellowships from EMBO Long-term and the Patterson Trust.