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Matthew Young, PhD


Postdoctoral Fellow
Yerkes National Primate Research Center


Research Description

The ability to interact in meaningful ways with other individuals allows us to make bonds with friends and family, and also to navigate life in the world with greater ease. However, many people suffer from profound social deficits, be they phobias, developmental disorders, or anxiety. I am particularly interested in the social deficits often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and how we might facilitate the development of prosocial behavior in people with ASD. Because 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA, 'ecstasy') has uniquely powerful empathogenic and prosocial effects, we are using this compound in mice to identify potential neurobiological targets that underlie social behavior. These include the hormone oxytocin and pro-inflammatory cytokines. The former has been observed to be useful for social bonding, however, its effect on prosocial behavior does not appear to have the same magnitude as that of MDMA. Therefore, we are exploring complementary pathways through which social behavior can be powerfully increased. Because people with ASD often exhibit increased peripheral inflammation (i.e. Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and, because MDMA has profound anti-inflammatory effects in the body, we are also exploring the pro-inflammatory cytokines as a target for increasing social bonding and behavior.