Led by principal investigator Sora Shin, Ph.D., the Shin Lab aims to understand the role of brain circuit-specific mechanisms using translationally relevant animal models of stress-induced psychiatric diseases. The lab seeks to answer such questions as: How does the harsh early environment affect mental health in adulthood? How are unfulfilled needs in early life stored and transduced into behavioral dysfunctions after a long time? What processes are set into motion that link stress experiences to symptoms of eating disorders or major depression in later life?
The Shin lab uses a combination of optogenetics, in vivo imaging and viral tracing techniques that has revolutionized modern neuroscience and will provide new opportunities for exploring the novel function of brain circuits. The laboratory pairs these techniques with classical approaches such as surgical and pharmacologic manipulations with the goal of providing a therapeutic approach for treating psychiatric symptoms caused by stress experiences.
- A chemical signaling flaw in the brain’s nucleus accumbens may be linked to stress-induced depression. When Shin and her colleagues injected a virus carrying genetic instructions to compensate for a missing gene, it increased levels of a key protein involved in regulating reward. As levels of the protein increased, the circuit was corrected, and depressive symptoms waned. Shin and her team revealed how defects in a precise signaling pathway increased the risk of chronic stress-induced depression, and then alleviated those symptoms once again using a drug to mimic the virus’s effects and correct the circuit.
- Shin and her colleagues showed that mice who experienced early life stress and had trouble socializing as adults, could gain normal social skills if a specific type of neuron was activated. Shin’s research showed that mice with social impairments had blunted brain cell activity in response to social interaction in the lateral septum – a brain region that regulates behavioral stress response. When the researchers used a technique called optogenetics to activate specific neurons using light stimulation, the social impairments vanished. The scientists yielded the same results when they used a drug to manipulate the same pathway.