We study Integrative Neural Circuits and Behavior
Research Group Leader
Dr. Stern started her Research Group Leader position at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in January 2021, leading the Integrative Neural Circuits and Behavior research group. Her research will focus on understanding how learning integrates with innate behaviors to produce diverse behavioral outcomes, from a molecular to the circuit level.
Prior to this, Dr. Stern was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Rockefeller University in the laboratory of Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, where she used her expertise in memory and rodent behavior to study the neural circuitry of how environmental cues lead to non-homeostatic overconsumption. Although this has direct implications for obesity, which is a huge health problem, it is also a general model for how learning can influence innate behaviors leading to maladaptive choices. Dr. Stern also led a project studying the intersection of stress and feeding relevant to Anorexia Nervosa.
Dr. Stern earned her PhD. in 2014 from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the laboratory of Dr. Cristina Alberini, where she studied the role of Insulin and IGF-II on memory consolidation and enhancement, as well as the role of astrocytic lactate signaling on long-term memory formation and consolidation. Prior to that Dr. Stern conducted research with Dr. Joseph LeDoux as an undergraduate student at New York University, where she graduated magna cum laude, with honors.
Dr. Stern is the recipient of numerous honors including a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award.
The Stern Lab studies how learning mechanisms and diverse environmental stimuli alter innate brain circuits to drive both adaptive and maladaptive behavioral outcomes.
As we go through life, people and animals encounter a variety of stimuli that provide information about the world around them and inform them about how to change their future behavior. Although some decisions are consciously made, much of this learning is unconscious and implicit. With state-of-the-art technologies ranging from molecular profiling to optogenetics and calcium imaging, our lab will aim to decipher the neural mechanisms, from circuits to molecules, underlying learning processes that drive complex motivated behaviors, including feeding, aggression and social behaviors.
Feeding behavior, in particular, is a useful model for studying this question. Feeding is ideally homeostatic and innate – organisms should eat when they are hungry and stop when they are sated. However, obesity and eating disorders are prevalent worldwide and are not typically caused by monogenetic disorders, but rather by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. What, then, are the environmental factors that lead to maladaptive feeding behaviors and how does top-down control of feeding occur?
In our previous work we showed that overconsumption in response to learned cues requires a circuit from the insular cortex to the central amygdala that suppresses homeostatic feeding signals. We also showed that acute environmental stress leads to sustained decreases in consumption through a lateral septum to lateral hypothalamus circuit. Our future work will continue to explore these questions while also developing novel behavioral models for understanding complex feeding behaviors underlying binge eating disorder and anorexia.
Maria Jose Olvera Caltzontzin
Arturo Rivera Rivera
Research Group Leader