08:11am Wednesday 21 August 2019

How oxytocin signals regulate behavior

To this end, Grinevich, who leads the Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Group “Neuropeptides” at the DKFZ, is collaborating with colleagues from the USA, Israel and France. The committee of the international Human Frontier Science Program has now decided to support the project.

enlarged view © dkfz.de

All life forms adjust their behavior to environmental conditions. This adjustment is regulated by chemical substances called neuromodulators, which impact the way the nervous system works. One of the best known neuromodulators is oxytocin, a neuropeptide that positively influences human social behavior. Oxytocin is produced by specific neurons of hypothalamus that exhibit projections that reach deep into the forebrain and regulate a large variety of behaviors – from aggression to empathy.

Dr. Grinevich and his coworkers now plan to find out at the molecular level how oxytocin leads to particular behavioral patterns. Their theory is that the oxytocin-producing neurons form various functional modules that are associated each with a specific social behavior.

The researchers are evaluating this theory in a specific region of hypothalamus called paraventricular nucleus where most projections of the oxytocin-producing neurons originate. In experiments with rats, they use a new molecular-biological technique to label and visualize individual of these neurons that are activated during a specific social behavior. Their goal is to analyze and create a mathematical model of the interaction of modules that regulate a specific social behavior.

Project leader Grinevich collaborates in this project with research groups led by Josef Buxbaum (New York), David Hansel (Paris) and Shlomo Wagner (Haifa).

The international Human Frontier Science Program was established in 1989 with the aim of supporting transnational outstanding projects in the area of life sciences. The organization will finance the collaborative project of Grinevich and his colleagues for a three-year period with annual funds of $450,000. The grant has been awarded in a highly competitive selection process where only 21 out of initially 1011 project ideas have been selected for grants.

Grinevich studied in Kursk, St. Petersburg and Moscow. After attaining the qualification to give lectures, he pursued research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA, at the University of Jena, Germany, at the Moscow State University of Medicine, Russia, and at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA. From 2008 to 2012, Grinevich was a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. Since 2012, he has been leading the Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Group “Neuropeptides” at the DKFZ. 

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

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