Broadly speaking, our lab is interested in how the brain integrates information from external social signals and from an animal's own internal physiological state to produce appropriate behaviors. Our work seeks to understand how an animal processes salient social information, which is often delivered in multiple sensory channels, and then translates it into context-specific behaviors used for survival and reproduction.

A. burtoni males
Our research program uses fishes, and specifically the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni (see Model System page), as models to study how the brain processes information, how sensory systems contribute to behavior, and how natural plasticity in an animal's internal hormonal or nutritional state can influence neural function and behavioral outcomes. Fishes are the largest and most diverse group of vertebrates, which provides us with ideal organisms to study basic neuron and sensory function, and how it relates to proximate and ultimate behavioral mechanisms in comparative and evolutionary contexts. 

We use a combination of experimental approaches that address questions at different levels of biological organization from whole organism behavior to cellular and molecular mechanisms. Techniques used in the lab include behavioral assays, in vivo neurophysiology recordings, immunohistochemistry, hormone assays, in situ hybridization, neuroanatomy and tract-tracing, and gene expression analyses.

Our ultimate goal is to gain insight towards understanding basic mechanisms of how the brain functions and adapts to an animal's constantly changing external environment and internal physiological state. Along the way, we aim to do good science and have fun!
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- Neural mechanisms of social behavior

- Chemosensory communication and processing

- Influence of hormones (steroids, neuropeptides, biogenic amines) on sensory processing and behavior

- Role of acoustic communication during reproduction

- Role of mechanoreception during social interactions

- Multimodal communication and processing

- Neural mechanisms of mouth-brooding; regulation of feeding and reproductive brain circuits

- Neural control of social status transitions

- Social status and reproductive state plasticity in sensory system and brain function

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The Maruska Laboratory

Neural Mechanisms of Behavior • Hormones and Sensory Processing • Sensory, Behavioral and Neural Plasticity

 

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