Research Summary

Julieta Lischinsky, Ph.D., leads the Neurobehavioral Circuits Group and holds a secondary appointment in the NIEHS Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory. The Neurobehavioral Circuits Group aims to elucidate the developmental, cellular, and circuit mechanisms for the establishment of social behaviors and how these mechanisms can be disrupted due to environmental stressors and in neurodevelopmental disorders.

We are social beings. We enjoy spending time with others, forming groups at work and school, and bonding with family and friends. Social behaviors, including aggression, mating and parental care, are present across species as they are crucial for survival and propagation. These behaviors have been considered to be innate, as they can take place without prior learning, suggesting there can be hard-wired circuits for their establishment. These circuits, nonetheless, are flexible and can then be shaped and modified by experience. Our group aims to understand the interplay between nature and nurture by investigating the developmental mechanisms giving rise to social behaviors (nature) and how adverse events, such as early life adversity, can modify these circuits (nurture).

During Lischinsky’s doctoral and postdoctoral work, she focused on the medial amygdala, a limbic region key for social behaviors, and uncovered two developmentally distinct and transcriptionally defined neuronal subpopulations that differentially process olfactory social sensory cues, play distinct roles during social behaviors, and differ in their circuit connectivity in adult mice. Overall, these studies revealed a developmentally hard-wired circuit organization for aggression.

The Neurobehavioral Circuits Group will take a whole-brain circuits approach to uncover the developmental events giving rise to social behaviors. To this end, Lischinsky and her group will utilize functional and circuit tools for the recording and manipulation of genetically-defined cell subpopulations across sexes. Additionally, a second line of research will study how environmental factors, including social isolation, early life adversity, and environmental contaminants, can disrupt the neuronal mechanisms and circuit connectivity for aggression and other behaviors.

Major areas of research:

  • Elucidating how social sensory information is processed across the lifespan, particularly during infancy and adolescence
  • Dissecting the circuit and functional connectivity of the social behavior network and beyond, across sexes
  • Understanding how environmental factors can disrupt social behaviors during postnatal development and adulthood

Current projects:

  • Social tuning of transcriptionally defined limbic system subpopulations across development
  • Circuit and functional connectivity of the amygdala and hypothalamus across sexes
  • Investigating how early life adversity disrupts the neuronal circuits for social behaviors during postnatal development in the limbic system

Lischinsky received her Ph.D. in molecular medicine, neuroscience track from The George Washington University. She performed her doctoral work at the lab of Joshua Corbin, Ph.D., at Children’s National Medical Center, where she studied the embryonic developmental programs for the establishment of social behaviors in the amygdala. As a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dayu Lin, Ph.D., at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, she took an in vivo and circuits approach to uncover the function, connectivity, and neuronal responses of developmentally distinct neuronal subpopulations for the generation of innate social behaviors, primarily aggression. She was awarded the prestigious Leon Levy Fellowship in Neuroscience and K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award to pursue her postdoctoral work. Lischinsky joined the NIEHS as an Earl Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator and NIH Distinguished Scholar in 2024.

If you are interested in joining or collaborating with the Neurobehavioral Circuits Group, please email Julieta Lischinsky.