“My personal field of research is neurobiology. At present, we are focusing on using mouse and rat models to study the underlying neural circuits that mediate social behaviors and emotions.
Social behaviors are among the defining behaviors for groups and individual higher animals, including humans, and play significant roles in ensuring reproduction and survival. By contrast, social behavior dysfunction is regarded as a prominent feature of various neuropsychiatric disorders like autism, schizophrenia, and social phobia, etc. Therefore, learning how the human brain generates social behaviors can be informative towards improving our understanding of the behavior itself and for curing some psychiatric diseases. Most mammals respond to sensory cues emitted by conspecifics and learn a repertoire of social behaviors such as mating, fighting, prey capture, and predator avoidance. From that perspective, learning how the brain encodes social information and triggers corresponding social behaviors is a necessary aspect of neuroscience.
Generally, mammals generate complex social behaviors in nature, especially when moving freely. However, the long-standing question of how the brain encodes social information under natural conditions has remained largely unknown since the full suite of electrical activities of the nervous system in free-moving mammals cannot be easily recorded simultaneously using traditional methods. To overcome this research obstacle and reveal neural encoding features that correspond to different social information, we first used microendoscope-based calcium imaging in free-moving mice to record the calcium signals of the medial amygdala, which is an essential encephalic region responsible for instinctive social behaviors. In addition, we also found that oxytocin, as a kind of neuropeptide, plays an essential role in male mice for distinguishing gender, but has little effect in females. This finding further reveals the neurobiological basis of gender-based differences in social behavior, and provides a new mechanism for understanding brain plasticity.
In our recent research, we apply and develop interdisciplinary methods (including dual-color microendoscope-based calcium imaging, single-cell sequencing, in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology approaches, etc.) to learn the generation and adaptation mechanisms controlling processes associated with encoding social information, as well as for social cognition and emotion. My main interests include: 1) brain encoding mechanisms for different kinds of social information; 2) the role of the neuromodulation system in social information encoding and social behavior generation; 3) the neurobiological basis of social cognitive and affective disorders; 4) differences and similarities in social information processing between young and adult individuals. It is my hope that our research will facilitate greater understanding of the social behaviors and emotions of human beings, leading to new therapeutic directions for some affective disorders.”
Dr. Ying Li received her Bachelor of Biology at Nanjing University in 2007, and earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2013 with the Wu Rui Scholarship and the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences President’s Award. In the same year, she joined the laboratory of Prof. Catherine Dulac in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department of Harvard University and was awarded the Breakthrough Prize and Academician of American NAS for postdoctoral research. She was financially supported by Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) and Long-term Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2014. She also won the Harvard Chinese Life Science Annual Distinguished Research Award in 2018. Dr. Li joined CIBR in 2019 and is currently working as a Principal Investigator and Ph.D. supervisor.
Focusing on the research of animal social behaviors and emotions, she has five publications in SCI journals including Cell, Developmental Cell, and Current Opinion in Neurobiology (cover), with over 400 citations. In addition, several ongoing projects of her group have won the support of the European HFSP Career Development Award, General Program of NSFC, and Beijing Science and Technology Rising Star Program.