The principal goal of Dr. Karen Parker's Lab Social Neurosciences Research Program is to better understand the biology of social functioning using an integrative, translational approach. The lab's behavioral research spans studies of individual differences in rhesus monkey social development to studies of social cognition impairments in various clinical populations (e.g., in children with autism; in survivors of pediatric hypothalamic-pituitary tumors; in adults with posttraumatic stress disorder).
Dr. Parker's lab is also developing several innovative monkey models of social impairments, including studies of rhesus monkeys that naturally exhibit social cognition deficits and common marmoset monkeys which are engineered to do so. Their biological studies employ epigenetic, gene expression, and neurotransmitter-based approaches to identify biomarkers of impaired social functioning, and they also conduct treatment trials to test the efficacy of novel pharmacotherapies to improve social abilities in low-social monkeys and in children with autism.
The Parker lab is particularly interested in testing whether “social” neuropeptide (e.g., oxytocin and arginine vasopressin) signaling pathways are implicated in human and non-human primate social behavior, and whether these neuropeptide pathways are robust biomarkers of, and treatment targets for, social impairments in clinical populations.