The Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics investigates the impact and mechanisms whereby stress and personality affect brain function and behavior, with a focus on the social domain and, particularly, on aggression and social hierarchies.

Specifically, we investigate:

  • The neurobiological mechanisms involved in the formation of social hierarchies, and their modulation by stress and anxiety. Our current work focuses in the mesolimbic system and the role of mitochondrial function in motivation and social competition.
  • The mechanisms whereby early life stress enhances risk to develop psychopathology, with a main focus on the emergence of pathological aggression. We investigate the role of glucocorticoids in determining different neurodevelopmental trajectories following exposure to early life adversity.
  • The mechanisms linking altered neuroplasticity during development and pathological aggression. We focus on genes involved in the polysialylation of the neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM and investigate alterations in gene expression and brain connectivity linked to dysfunctional behaviors.

Experimental approaches in the lab include a combination of behavioral, neurobiological, neuroimaging, neurochemical, pharmacological, metabolic, genetic and optogenetic methods. We are as well performing translational studies in humans using virtual reality, behavioral economics, experimental psychology (eye-tracking, computer-based tests) and neuroimaging (EEG, fMRI, MRI, 1H-MRS) approaches.

Selected Recent Original Articles:

  • van der Kooij M.A., Hollis F., Lozano L., Zalachoras I., Abad S., Zanoletti O., Grosse J., Guillot de Suduiraut I., Canto C. and Sandi C. (2017) Diazepam actions in the VTA enhance social dominance and mitochondrial function in the nucleus accumbens by activation of dopamine D1 receptors. Mol Psychiatry in press.

  • Larrieu T., Cherix A ., Duque A., Rodrigues J., Lei H., Gruetter R. and Sandi C. (2017) Hierarchical Status Predicts Behavioral Vulnerability and Nucleus Accumbens Metabolic Profile Following Chronic Social Defeat Stress. Curr Biol 27: 2202-10.e4

  • Hollis F., van der Kooij M.A., Zanoletti O., Lozano L., Cantó C. and Sandi C. (2015) Mitochondrial function in the brain links anxiety with social subordination. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112: 15486-91.

  • Tzanoulinou S., García-Mompó C., Riccio O., Grosse J., Zanoletti O., Panagiotis D., Nacher J. and Sandi C. (2015) Neuroligin-2 expression in the prefrontal cortex is involved in attention deficits induced by peripubertal stress. Neuropsychopharmacology 1-11.

  • van der Kooij M.A., Fantin M., Rejmak E., Grosse J., Zanoletti O., Fournier C., Ganguly K., Kalita K., Kaczmarek L. and Sandi C. (2014) Role for MMP-9 in stress-induced down-regulation of nectin-3 in hippocampal CA1 and associated behavioral alterations. Nat Commun 5:4995.

  • Luksys G., Gerstner W. and Sandi C. (2009) Stress, genotype and norepinephrine in prediction of mouse behavior using reinforcement learning. Nat Neurosci 12: 1180-86.


Selected Reviews:

  • Tzanoulinou S. and Sandi C. (2017) The Programming of the Social Brain by Stress During Childhood and Adolescence: From Rodents to Humans. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 30:411-29

  • Sandi C. and Haller J. (2015) Stress and the social brain: behavioral effects and neurobiological mechanisms. Nat Rev Neurosci 16:290-304.

  • van der Kooij M.A. and Sandi C. (2015) The genetics of social hierarchies. Curr Opin Behav Sci 2: 52-7.

  • Sandi C. (2011) Glucocorticoids act on glutamatergic pathways to affect memory processes. Trends Neurosci 34: 165-76.

  • Sandi C. and Richter-Levin G. (2009) From high anxiety trait to depression: A neurocognitive hypothesis, Trends Neurosci 32: 312-20.