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Moriel Zelikowsky

Assistant Professor of Neurobiology

Stress, Social Isolation, PTSD, Neural Circuits of Emotion, Neuropeptides

Moriel Zelikowsky


Molecular Biology Program


B.A. University of California, Los Angeles

Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles



The Zelikowsky lab examines the neural mechanisms which underlie our social emotional brain. The overarching goal of our research group is to understand how the brain encodes social emotional experiences – such as social isolation, social instability, overcrowding, or acute psychogenic stress – and how, in turn, these experiences can impact subsequent behavior.  Using cutting-edge, genetically-targeted molecular tools and techniques to identify, manipulate, and image from specific populations of neurons across the brain, we aim to dissect the neural circuits which mediate social emotional states. These techniques are combined with in-depth behavioral testing, machine learning, and computational analyses to elucidate the impact of social and emotional experiences on various behaviors including violence, fear, mating, sociality and memory.  

We find ourselves at an unprecedented moment in history: the social fabric of society, our social connections, have never been more frayed. Yet, we know relatively little about how the brain encodes disruptions to our social connectivity. If successful, our research program will close this gap in knowledge, identifying novel neurochemical targets for the treatment of social-stress related mental health disorders and advancing our understanding of how the brain encodes internal states produced by social emotional experiences.

Social History: Social Isolation, Instability, Overcrowding, Hierarchy 

One of the biggest threats to our health is the modern epidemic of loneliness. A large portion of the Zelikowsky Lab’s research aims to understand the neurobiology of social isolation. In particular, the lab has identified a role for the neuropeptide Tachykinin 2 in the control of the internal state produced by prolonged social isolation. We are currently investigating the role of Tac2 in additional brain regions in the control of various behaviors altered by social isolation. More generally, we believe that neuropeptides are perfectly poised to modulate various internal social states, and additional projects in the lab are aimed at understanding the function of various neuropeptides to control such states, including social instability and overcrowding. Finally, we are interested in how various social features, including social hierarchy, interact with social experience to influence behavior and the brain.



Relationships: Mating, Sociality, and Social Vocalizations

Social stress, including social isolation, has been shown to produce deleterious impacts on relationship quality, social interactions, intimacy and can even alter the evolutionary trajectory of a species. We are interested in understanding the impact of social isolation on mating behavior, social interactions, and mouse ultrasonic vocalizations. In particular, we focus on understanding changes in the brain and behavior for animals that undergo stress as well as the repercussions of these changes on the brain and adaptive behavior of the recipient animal.





Violence: Non-Canonical Circuits, Unique Biobehavioral Footprints 

There isn’t a week that goes by without a devastating, tragic episode of societal or domestic violence in the news. Indeed, aggression towards others as well as towards the self has steeply risen in recent years. Our group is aimed at understanding the neurobiology of aggression, with a focus on examining the contribution of extra-hypothalamic regions, not typically studied in the context of aggression. In addition, we are interested in comparing the effects of distinct experiences, such as social isolation, acute noxious stress, or mating, to generate dissociable forms of aggression which can be identified through computationally, behaviorally, and neurobiologically unique footprints.





Trauma: Social Behaviors, Memory 

One of the hallmark features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is its ability to negatively impact social behaviors, including engendering aggression. Nevertheless, the impact of trauma on social behavior has been relatively understudied. The Zelikowsky Lab has a number of projects aimed at revealing the behavioral impact of trauma on subsequent social behaviors. We aim to identify unique, cell-type- and projection-specific neural ensembles which underlie trauma and its effects on behavior. In addition, we are interested in studying the intersection of trauma and memory, identifying how a single, acute stressor is capable of both limiting and enhancing certain types of social and asocial memories.

Last Updated: 8/1/23