Indian American associate professor receives BRAIN grant to study social interactions

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Mala Murthy (Courtesy: pni.princeton.edu)

NEW YORK – Mala Murthy, an Indian American associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, and her team of researchers have received a $2.2 million grant from the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, to investigate the brain’s mechanisms at work in social interactions between two animals, from processing each other’s cues to generating complex behaviors in response, according to a press release.

“The BRAIN Initiative is absolutely critical for supporting pioneering projects like ours that aim to uncover fundamental principles of brain function,” Murthy said, adding that impairments in processing social information and generating appropriate responses underlie several human disorders.

The Princeton Neuroscience Institute and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute faculty scholar is the leader of the team who is investigating how the brain processes social cues by looking at the courtship interactions of the vinegar fly.

“During courtship, flies both process myriad sensory cues from their partner and generate a number of dynamic behaviors, including the production of courtship songs,” Murthy said.

The team will then use this model system to uncover general principles of neural circuit function that will inform studies of sensorimotor integration in more complex systems.

The BRAIN Initiative is a large-scale effort to push the boundaries of neuroscience research and equip scientists to understand and treat a wide variety of brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism and traumatic brain injury.

The highly interdisciplinary project involves state-of-the-art methods in neural circuit analysis, behavioral analysis and theoretical modeling.

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