Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience

Researchers in the Emory National Primate Research Center Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience (DCN) examine the neurobiology of social and emotional behavior, and cognition across the life span, providing nonhuman primate models for various neuropsychiatric disorders. These include stress-related and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer's disease and obesity. Additionally, researchers investigate the comparative aspects of cognitive functions, such as memory and language. Faculty members use state-of-the-art technology (behavior, cognition, genomics, brain transient activation/inactivation and neuroimaging, including PET) to manipulate neurobiology and capture resulting changes in complex social, emotional and cognitive behavior. Division researchers carry out studies at both of the Center's locations – the Main Center on Emory's campus and the Field Station in Lawrenceville.

The recent development and implementation of novel automated and standardized testing techniques and equipment has allowed researchers to more fully examine behavioral effects of interventions in species-typical social environments, to increase the ad-lib testing of a number of cognitive modalities and to measure, manipulate and monitor dietary intakes of socially housed monkeys using automated testing kiosks.

In addition to improving understanding of basic biological mechanisms regulating social and cognitive behavior, results from Division researchers are also being used to improve the welfare of nonhuman primates by enhancing colony management and increasing breeding efficiency, which augments the availability of nonhuman primates for research.

Division chief Mar Sanchez, PhD, studies the neurobiological systems that control stress physiology and emotion regulation. She is particularly interested in the effects of early experiences, such as maternal care and social stress, on the development of those brain systems and the psychopathology and pathophysiology of anxiety and mood disorders.

Core scientists for the Division are Kim Wallen, PhD and Vasiliki Michopoulos, PhD. The Division represents a unique compilation of core and affiliate scientists who are experts in neuroendocrinology, developmental neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience and primate social organization, and who serve as intellectual resources for other scientists within the Emory Primate Center, as well as regional, national and international collaborators. Scientists within the Division play a key role not only in research quality but also in the mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students and early career scientists.