Rick Thompson PhD

Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience, Oxford College
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Work in my lab explores how steroid hormones and neuropeptides in the vasopressin / oxytocin family influence social behavior across vertebrate animals. Specifically, we want to learn how and where within the brain these molecules act to rapidly influence interactions between individuals and to help animals adjust ongoing behavioral outputs to rapidly changing social contexts. Although I have worked with numerous species across broad vertebrate groups, current work focuses on goldfish and zebrafish, two closely related, highly social teleost fish in which we can examine the molecular and cellular mechanisms through which these molecules affect behavioral and brain responses to social stimuli. We are currently 1) investigating the receptor mechanisms through which testosterone and estradiol rapidly modulate early stages of visual and olfactory processing, 2) characterizing the neural circuits through which vasotocin and isotocin, fish homologues of vasopressin and oxytocin, promote social approach and withdrawal, and 3) trying to determine if steroid hormones produce some of their rapid behavioral effects by modulating activity within those peptide circuits. A complimentary line of research explores how vasopressin modulates social perceptions in humans. Ultimately, we hope to characterize steroid and neuropeptide mechanisms that evolved to help different species solve social challenges associated with their unique life histories, as well as to identify the molecular, cellular, and anatomical similarities in how these molecules work across species that represent the fundamental mechanisms through which brain neurochemistry modulates social behavior in vertebrate animals.