Circuits for care - deconstructing parental behaviour

Parenting is essential for the survival and wellbeing of offspring in many species, but we lack a circuit-level understanding of how this social behaviour is orchestrated. Using viral tracing, in vivo imaging, optogenetic manipulations and behavioural profiling in mice, we recently discovered that a genetically specified class of hypothalamic neurons forms projection-defined subpopulations which are each tuned to, and control, specific aspects of parenting. This functional organisation provides a new model for how discrete elements of an instinctive behaviour are generated at the circuit level. Our current goal is to understand how physiological states (such as pregnancy, hunger and sleep) alter the form and function of this parenting circuit.