Social interactions between individuals and among groups are a hallmark of human society as we know it and are critical to the physical and mental health of a wide variety of species including humans. Impairment of social function is a prominent feature of many neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
Nonetheless, many fundamental questions regarding the neural mechanisms underlying social behavior remain unanswered. The central goal of our laboratory is to study general principles of how social behavior is regulated in the brain. The Hong lab takes a multi-disciplinary approach and uses a variety of experimental and computational technologies across molecular, circuit, and behavioral levels. We study how neural dynamics regulate social behavioral decisions within a single brain as well as how emergent inter-brain neural properties arise from social interactions between individuals.
"One fascinating feature of social behavior is the dynamic and reciprocal nature of the complex biological processes involved in social interaction."
- Weizhe Hong, PhD
Astrocytes have been implicated in a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, traumatic brain injury and autism. Certain aspect of astrocyte function helps neural repair whereas astrocyte dysfunction exacerbates diseases. Scientists are only beginning to understand what roles astrocytes play in each type of brain disorder.
Social interactions involve active detection of cues from multiple sensory modalities and selection of appropriate social decisions. Does the brain process social information and make social behavioral decisions in a special manner? One possibility is that there are unique "social" brain regions or social behavioral circuits that are dedicated to the sensorimotor transformation of socially encoded information. Ultimately, however, the brain is a highly interconnected structure and thus social circuits, if they exist, clearly interface with other nonsocial circuits (such as those involved in feeding and homeostasis). Are there dedicated "social" brain structures or social behavioral circuits? Are there distinct principles that govern social information processing? The Hong lab is interested in studying how social sensory information is processed and integrated in the brain and how different social behavioral decisions are selected and modulated by neural circuits.
One fascinating feature of social behavior is the dynamic and reciprocal nature of the complex biological processes involved in social interaction. In interacting dyads, individuals become entrained to each other as each carefully attends to, predicts, and reacts to the decisions of the other.
To date, studies interrogating the neural computations underlying social decision-making have largely been conducted in individual animals. But a full understanding of the social brain requires a broader picture that reflects the dynamic nature of social interactions, as well as the emergent neural properties that arise from multiple individuals as a single integrated system. The Hong lab studies social decisions and emergent inter-brain neural properties in a multi-brain framework that considers social interaction as an integrated network of neural systems.