Discoverer of neural circuits for parenting wins US$3-million Breakthrough Prize

Catherine Dulac, a member of the EAJK Scientific Advisory Committee and molecular biologist at Harvard University, has been awarded a Breakthrough prize — the most lucrative award in science and mathematics – for her work on the neurology of parental roles.

In the 1990s, Dulac isolated the pheromone receptors in mice that govern sex-specific social behaviors. Virgin male mice usually attack other males and kill pups. But Dulac found that if their pheromone receptors were blocked, they would attempt to mate with both males and females, and virgin males would even care for pups. Pheromone-blind females, by contrast, would attempt to mount males.

To elucidate the neural mechanisms at play, Dulac identified a protein called galanin that is expressed by neurons involved in parenting. Killing the neurons in females stopped them parenting, and activating them in virgin males made them maternal. Her team then used the galanin marker to track the specific circuitry associated with the motivational, hormonal and behavioral changes needed for nurturing.

Read more at Nature.

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