Larry J. Young
Author of The Chemistry Between Us', to be released Sept 13th 2012
I received my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Georgia in 1989. During my undergraduate education, I became fascinated with the notion that one could understand complex biological phenomenon in terms of well defined biochemical processes. Furthermore, it was apparent that many of the biological processes that make up an organism are determined by the sequence of nucleotides that make up the organism's genetic code. In many respects, behavior seemed to be as far removed from the genome as any biological process. Yet, since many species-specific behaviors, such as courtship behaviors, parental care, and aggression are innate, it follows that the information that ultimately leads to the organisms expressing those behaviors must be encoded in its genes. Upon this realization, I decided to spend my career trying to understand the relationship between genes, brain and innate behaviors. I joined David Crews' laboratory as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in 1989 where I investigated the molecular mechanisms underlying the unusual pseudosexual behavior in a unisexual lizard (Young and Crews, 1994). For my thesis, I used a comparative approach to understand the underlying molecular differences between two congeneric lizard species, one which engaged in psuedosexual behavior, and one that did not. I earned my PhD in 1994, at which time I became a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Thomas Insel at Emory University.
As a post-doc, I began investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying social attachment in prairie voles. Like the lizards that I studied as a graduate student, different species of voles engage in different behaviors. Prairie voles are monogamous and form life-long social attachments, while montane and meadow voles are promiscuous breeders and do not form social attachments at all. Earlier research by Dr. Insel and Dr. Sue Carter had implicated the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in the regulation of pair bond formation in prairie voles. Using comparative molecular approaches I began work to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the species differences in behavior.
In 1996 I joined the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University and continued my research into the molecular, cellular and systems level mechanisms underlying social behavior in voles. I have also used knockout mouse models to examine the roles of oxytocin and vasopressin in a variety of social behaviors. Currently my laboratory is using interdisciplinary approaches to understand how specific genes regulate the expression of innate behaviors, with a continuing focus on social attachment and social behavior in general. Techniques used in the lab include molecular genetics, gene expression analysis, viral vector mediated gene transfer, transgenic mouse technology, and behavioral pharmacology. The goal of my research is to gain a better understanding of the relationship between genes, the brain and behavior. By gaining an understanding of the mechanisms underlying social attachment, we hope to gain insight in human disorders characterized with social impairments, such as autism.