The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
McGovern Medical School
Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy
The Do Monte Lab focuses on understanding the neural circuits and mechanisms underlying emotional memories. We are particularly interested in elucidating how fear- and reward-associated memories interact to generate the most adaptive behavioral responses. Using a multidisciplinary approach in rats, we combine optogenetic, in vivo electrophysiological recording, pharmacological, immunohistochemical, and imaging techniques to investigate the mechanisms involved in balancing fear and reward stimuli, with emphasis on the innate defensive responses induced by predator cues.
The mammalian brain has an exceptional ability to associate aversive and rewarding stimuli with environmental cues. The correct discrimination between harmful and beneficial stimuli allows an organism to select the most appropriate response, thereby protecting it from danger. In humans, inappropriate retrieval of reward associated memories is the framework for substance abuse, whereas inappropriate retrieval of fear/aversive memories can lead to the development of anxiety disorders. Understanding the neural circuits mediating the integration of fear- and reward-associated memories may uncover more effective therapies for patients suffering from both anxiety and substance-related addictive disorders.
ACTIVITIES IN THE LAB
Members of the Do Monte lab have the opportunity to learn a wide variety of procedures and techniques in rats, including:
- Optogenetic targeting of projection-specific neuronal populations
- Single-unit electrophysiology in combination with optogenetics to record from identified neuronal populations (photo-tagging)
- Immunohistochemical approaches to identify the upregulation/downregulation of specific brain proteins within projection-specific neuronal populations
- Behavioral assays to study the formation and retrieval of aversive and rewarding memories
In addition, students and postdocs have the chance to participate in weekly journal club discussions and develop their skills through oral presentations during our weekly lab meetings. They are also encouraged to present their research results during scientific conferences in the field. Through additional one-on-one weekly meetings with the PI, students are mentored to design hypotheses, to develop critical skills, and to communicate clearly and effectively when talking and writing. These individual meetings also allow them to receive constructive feedback according to their individual expertise and abilities. This student-centered training in Do Monte lab is critical for the rapid development of students, and for the success of the lab as well.
Education & Training
Ph.D. - Federal University of Santa Catarina - 2010