The Stubbs lab is focused on understanding how the interplay between genes and environment shapes brain development, and how that interplay ultimately influences behavior.
We study the role of gene regulation – the processes responsible for orchestrating how genes are used in each brain cell to specify unique functions – and how what happens during our lifetime leads to changes in those processes.
We are particularly interested in gene regulatory mechanisms that operate in the parts of the brain involved in social behavior, from mother-infant bonding to the response to social threat. We are interested in understanding how foundational, early-life events shape gene function and through it, brain development; we also study how the adult brain “rewires,” re-awakening some of those early genes and mechanisms, in order to adapt to new life experiences. These adaptive responses, also called “emotional learning,” are essential to health and happiness. If the mechanisms that regulate these developmental processes go awry at any age, the results can be disabling, leading to disorders such as autism, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To investigate these questions, we use mouse models, which allow us to apply powerful genetic and genomics tools in a species that is similar to humans in genetics, development, and behavior. Mouse models let us study the interaction between genes and changing social environments, health conditions, and other relevant factors across an animal’s lifespan. The models also let us document the animal’s behavior, as well as the structure and function of specific brain regions and even single brain cells.
Our ultimate goal is to discover new insights into human biology and to help improve the lives of people who suffer from behavioral disorders, both those that are inherited and those resulting from adverse life experiences.