Catherine Dulac, PhD

Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Molecular and neuronal basis of murine innate social behaviors

Study neuronal circuits in the mouse involved with pheromone signaling in terms of their development, processing, architecture, and function; investigate the role genomic imprinting role in mammalian brain development, function, and disease.

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Commercial Opportunities

The Dulac laboratory is interested in the neural circuits underlying social behaviors and fear, which are relevant to mood disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and schizophrenia.

There is increasing evidence that imprinted genes contribute to risk of neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders, such as autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia, as well as several explicit imprinted syndromes including Angelman and Prader-Willi syndromes. Opportunities for drug discovery could stem from the Dulac laboratory’s research on genomic imprinting in the brain.

In addition, their understanding of how sex-specific parental bias on imprinted genes would impact disease susceptibility (as in the case for multiple sclerosis) could translate into new and effective therapeutics.

Current Research Interests
  • Study the neural circuits underlying innate social behaviors and fear, which are relevant to mood disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and schizophrenia.
  • Determine the nature of mammalian pheromones and the corresponding receptors.
  • Study how the brain processes pheromone signals and translates the signals into a specific behavior.
  • Investigate the development of pheromone neuronal circuits, looking at physical connections and the impact of genetic information.
  • Explore the mechanistic and functional roles genomic imprinting serves in the brain.
Tools and Assays
  • Mouse behavioral systems related to fear.
  • cDNA libraries from single neurons.
  • High resolution transcriptome sequencing.
  • Bioinformatics.
Research Expertise

The Dulac laboratory has been at the forefront of olfactory sensory research in mammals and has discovered many families of pheromone receptors. Utilizing a technology developed by Dr. Dulac to generate cDNA libraries from single neurons, the researchers connect these receptors to specific social behaviors. The lab has shown that many of the same circuits exist in both male and female brains, but neurons at the base of the nasal cavity in the vomeronasal organ can control which circuits are activated depending on the mouse’s gender. Disabling this sensory organ prompts female mice to act like male mice and vice versa. This research has aided in the understanding of differences between the genders in sexual behavior as well as the role of sensory processing in gender-specific behavior.

The Dulac laboratory also studies genomic imprinting in the mammalian brain. Using a genome-wide approach in mouse, the lab discovered over 1000 new loci in the brain with features of imprinting. Comparisons among different developmental phases and physical regions of the brain have revealed that this epigenetic mark varies by space, time, species, gender, and gene isoform. This shows that imprinting is more complex and reliant on parental biases than previously thought. Comprehending this dynamic regulation of the brain’s genome will aid in understanding the brain’s function, especially between the sexes, and impact diseases as well.