Cori Bargmann, PhD, Investigator for HHMI, and Torsten N. Wiesel Professor at The Rockefeller University delivered a public lecture titled "Ancient Molecules and the Modern Brain: Understanding Our Social Nature".
Neurochemical signals in the brain have fascinating links to behavior and cognition. For example, a brain peptide called oxytocin regulates the physiology of childbirth and nursing in mammals—and also affects reproductive behaviors such as maternal attachment and pair-bonding. Research by HHMI neuroscientist Dr. Cori Bargmann has shown that oxytocin and other brain chemicals associated with emotions have ancient origins. Dr. Bargmann has discovered molecules very similar to oxytocin in one of our distant evolutionary ancestors: a microscopic, soil-dwelling worm called Caenorhabditis elegans that has only 302 nerve cells. Intriguingly, these molecules are associated with reproductive behavior in this very simple creature, where their effects are much easier to untangle from the complex effects of culture and experience. Through studies of genes and molecules that have been conserved over hundreds of millions of years, Dr. Bargmann and her colleagues have revealed neural processes that regulate fundamental behaviors in simple animals. These discoveries provide insight into the building blocks of complex behaviors in other animals and perhaps even in humans.
Watch the Lecture: