Emory receives $12.7 million grant to continue oxytocin research | Emory University

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Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Brain Health Center have received a five-year, $12.7 million National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant to continue innovative research on oxytocin, a brain chemical known for establishing mother-infant bonds, at the University’s Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition.

The goal of the Conte Center research during the next five years is to use cutting-edge technologies, including CRISPR gene editing and optogenetics, in research with rodents and nonhuman primates to understand more precisely the way oxytocin acts in the brain, including its role in neural communication and social functioning. 

“We want to translate this knowledge to treatments to improve social functioning in disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions,” says Larry Young, PhD, who will lead the Conte Center team, which includes researchers at Yerkes and Emory as well as the University of Arizona. Young is chief of the Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at the Yerkes Research Center, director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience (CTSN) at Emory and professor of psychiatry in Emory’s School of Medicine.

In addition to the focused research projects, the Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition will facilitate outreach activities to local schools and the Atlanta community.

“With our continued funding, we will be able to further our work to determine how oxytocin functions and to share that information with colleagues and the public worldwide. We hope to harness the power of a mother’s love via the powerful bond her brain chemistry forges with her infant so we can better understand and boost the salience of social cues in people who have difficulty navigating the social world,” Young continues.

Yerkes Research Center Director R. Paul Johnson, MD, adds, “The renewal of this funding demonstrates the high regard for Dr. Young’s groundbreaking research on social bonding, which has the potential to lead to promising new treatments for psychiatric diseases.”

Since its initial funding in 2013, researchers at Emory’s Conte Center have worked with rodents, monkeys and humans, including those who have autism, to explore how normal brain chemistry involved in social bonding, such as between parent and offspring or between partners, affects specific brain communication and mental processing of social experiences. 

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