Laboratory of Emotions Neurobiology

Head: Ewelina KNAPSKA

Staff: Tomasz Górkiewicz, Ksenia Meyza, Marta Mikosz (PhD student), Alicja Puścian (PhD student), Karolina Rokosz, Joanna Sadowska, Weronika Szadzińska (PhD student), Tomasz Werka (Professor emeritus)

Research profile
Research activities of our laboratory are focused on neurobiological basis of emotions. We are particularly interested in mechanisms of socially transferred emotions (in simple models of empathy) and cellular mechanisms of extinction and renewal of conditioned fear. Social transfer of emotions requires empathy which, in its simplest form, can be characterized as the capacity to be affected by and/or share the emotional state of another individual. In our laboratory we designed two experimental models of emotional information transfer in rats and mice, and we are currently using these models to study brain mechanisms underlying social communication. Understanding how the systems governing social communication operate could explain why some individuals suffer from autism, in which social interaction and communication are compromised. In another line of studies, we investigate the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying extinction and renewal of aversive memories. Extinction of conditioned fear is a laboratory model of exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. However, extinguished fear can be recovered in a number of situations. It can re-emerge, e.g., because of a change in experimental context (renewal effect). The return of fear after extinction is a considerable challenge for maintaining long-lasting fear suppression after exposure-based therapies. Therefore, examining the nature and properties of fear extinction in laboratory rodents may help to optimize the treatment of human anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Current research activities
Socially transferred fear – the neural basis of empathy We investigate neural representations of emotional states of interacting animals using two behavioral models of socially transferred fear designed in our laboratory. We also study social fear transfer in female rats in relation to the estrous cycle.
Neural mechanisms of impaired social behaviors. The aim of these studies is to provide standardization of a battery of high-throughput behavioral measures (in the fully automated IntelliCage system), characterization of neuronal circuits governing socially transferred emotions and validation of tissue-specific therapeutic intervention using mice models of synaptopathies relevant to autism spectrum disorders.
The neural mechanisms of extinction and renewal of learned fears. We are interested, at the cellular level, in a functional interplay between the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala that results in either efficient fear extinction or recovery of extinguished fear. Moreover, we study neuronal circuits underlying social modulation of fear extinction.

Methods:
- state-of-the-art behavioral testing of rats and mice (including fear conditioning and extinction, two-way avoidance learning, various tests for studying social interaction, behavioral tests in the fully automated IntelliCage system and its modifications, analysis of ultrasonic vocalization),
- immunohistochemical staining,
- temporal pharmacological inactivaction of different brain structures (stereotactic canniulations), local control of gene expression using viral vectors, studying anatomical connection between brain structures with axonal transport tracers.

Selected publications

Knapska E., Macias M., Mikosz M., Nowak A., Owczarek D., Wawrzyniak M., Pieprzyk M., Cymerman I.A., Werka T., Sheng M., Maren S., Jaworski J., Kaczmarek L. (2012) Functional anatomy of neural circuits regulating fear and extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109: 17093-17098.

Knapska E., Mikosz M., Werka T., Maren S. (2010) Social modulation of learning in rats. Learning and Memory, 17: 35-42. Knapska E., Maren S. (2009) Reciprocal patterns of c-Fos expression in the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala after extinction and renewal of conditioned fear. Learning and Memory, 16: 486-493.

Knapska E., Radwańska K., Werka T., Kaczmarek L. (2007) Functional internal complexity of amygdala: focus on gene activity mapping after behavioral training and drugs of abuse. Physiological Reviews, 87: 1113-1173.

Knapska E., Nikolaev E., Boguszewski P., Walasek G., Błaszczyk J., Kaczmarek L., Werka T. (2006) Between subject transfer of emotional information evokes specific pattern of amygdala activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 103: 3858-3862