Dietrich Lab

2. Understanding mammalian behavior in dynamic environments.

The view of our lab is that  studying mammalian behavior in social settings in more naturalistic conditions will reveal a much more flexible, dynamic and complex nature of brain circuits in control of behavior. We are  studying mouse behavior in social groups during extended periods of time. By testing in the lab behaviors that were previously only possible in the field, we aim to identify novel neuronal circuits that are relevant for the control of many diverse behaviors, an essential step towards elucidating the mechanisms underlying brain functions.

3. The origins of individual variability in mammals.

We are interested in the origins of individual variability in physiological processes in mammals, and the fundamental mechanisms by which mammals differ concerning manifestation of diseases. We are especially interested in the molecular mechanisms that predispose individuals to chronic metabolism disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. The complex biology underlying these diseases is stifled by the genetic heterogeneity among the human population. This heterogeneity prevents our understanding of how other factors (epigenetics, environment, stochasticity, etc.) contribute to the origins of phenotypic variability and manifestation of diseases. Our overall laboratory goal is to elucidate the mechanisms that act in addition to genetic variation to yield human differences in phenotype and manifestation of diseases.

One of my major objectives of our laboratory is to study  the molecular origins of inter-individual variability by investigating genetically identical mammals. Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) are the only mammals that always give birth to identical quadruplets (four genetically identical twins). The four biological replicates provide unprecedented analytical power to investigate the mechanisms of variability, which cannot be achieved even with twin studies. We are studying mechanisms that mediate variability at the molecular level in the armadillos to identify fundamental and novel insights into individual-to-individual phenotypic variability that is in addition to genetic variation. We also study several mouse lines, including wild-derived mice, to investigate the origins of behavior and physiological variability.

The main interest of my laboratory is to understand the physiological mechanisms that regulate homeostasis in mammals. Our studies focus on investigating the ontogeny of physiological processes, how and why they are elicited, and the underlying molecular and system-level mechanisms. 

The specific research directions of our laboratory include:  

1. Ontogeny of physiological processes in mammals.
We are very interested in the study of the emergence of mammalian physiological processes at early developmental ages (4th question of Tinbergen) (12). Our theoretical inspiration is that to fully understand how a complex system works we must understand how it functionally develops. Based on this premise, our initial focus is on the ontogeny of the machinery involved in (1) metabolism control and nutrient sensing, and (2) the behavior development of the infant. These studies have the potential to contribute to the long-sought understanding of the nature of early life experiences to long-lasting influences on mammalian physiology and predisposition to chronic illnesses.

The study of early life physiology has been lagged behind, as there are substantial technical limitations in using neonatal animals. My laboratory has been developing and will continue to improve methods to study physiological processes in neonatal mammals. We are interested in applying system-level approaches to investigate the ontogeny of physiological processes.