Why do you feel lonely? Neuroscience is starting to find answers.

Long before the world had ever heard of covid-19, Kay Tye set out to answer a question that has taken on new resonance in the age of social distancing: When people feel lonely, do they crave social interactions in the same way a hungry person craves food? And could she and her colleagues detect and measure this “hunger” in the neural circuits of the brain? Original Article »

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Salk neuroscientist, Kay Tye, on work-life balance and reducing stigma in mental health

A little over a year ago, Kay Tye took the big step of moving her lab from MIT to the Salk Institute in San Diego. A true testament to her mentorship style, some 15 people in her Boston lab also uprooted their lives to follow and continue doing science with Kay. Since the move, the lab has really embraced their new southern California lifestyle, with regular surf breaks at the beach next to the lab, complete with a rotation for who will provide the post-surf burritos. In her chat with Nick, Kay paints an idyllic picture of a lab culture that effortlessly combines work and play — a model of work-life balance. Original Article »


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Mental Health Toll from Coronavirus Could Rival that of Disease Itself

Mental health experts are now bracing for a “mental health tsunami”

Tom Insel has watched the nation grapple with plenty of psychologically challenging situations over his long career in the field of mental health. The psychiatrist became director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the months following 9-11, when Americans were traumatized over the twin tower bombings. He watched residents of Louisiana and Mississippi dig out from the waterlogged rubble of Hurricane Katrina. He’s seen mass shootings in Tucson, Fort Hood and Newtown.

But nothing in Insel’s experience has tested the nation’s psychological resilience like COVID-19, which has millions of Americans living in fear of contracting a deadly new disease, hunkering down in involuntary confinement, contemplating rising unemployment and the prospect of a worldwide economic collapse, cut off and worried about loved ones, besieged by a parade of bad news and tormented by boredom, fear and loneliness. Mental health experts are now bracing for what Insel calls a “mental health tsunami.” They’re anticipating a steep rise in the diseases of isolation—suicides, opioid abuse, domestic violence and depression—that will unfold over the next few months and could stretch on for years. Original Article »

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Brain biomarker predicts compulsive drinking

Salk scientists discover brain circuit in mice that controls compulsive drinking of alcohol

LA JOLLA—Although alcohol use is ubiquitous in modern society, only a portion of individuals develop alcohol use disorders or addiction. Yet, scientists have not understood why some individuals are prone to develop drinking problems, while others are not. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice, and can be used as a biomarker for predicting the development of compulsive drinking later on. The findings were published in Science on November 21, 2019, and could potentially have implications for understanding human binge drinking and addiction in the future.

“I hope this will be a landmark study, as we’ve found (for the first time) a brain circuit that can accurately predict which mice will develop compulsive alcohol drinking weeks before the behavior starts,” says Kay Tye, a professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory and holder of the Wylie Vale Chair. “This research bridges the gap between circuit analysis and alcohol/addiction research, and provides a first glimpse at how representations of compulsive alcohol drinking develop across time in the brain.”


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Dopamine primes the brain for enhanced vigilance

Neuroscientists discover a circuit that helps redirect attention to focus on potential threats.

Imagine a herd of deer grazing in the forest. Suddenly, a twig snaps nearby, and they look up from the grass. The thought of food is forgotten, and the animals are primed to respond to any threat that might appear.

MIT neuroscientists have now discovered a circuit that they believe controls the diversion of attention away from everyday pursuits, to focus on potential threats. They also found that dopamine is key to the process: It is released in the brain’s prefrontal cortex when danger is perceived, stimulating the prefrontal cortex to redirect its focus to a part of the brain that responds to threats. Original Article »

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Meet the School of Science’s tenured professors for 2018

Six faculty members are granted tenure in four departments.

… Kay Tye dissects the synaptic and cellular mechanisms in emotion and reward processing with the goal of understanding how they underpin addiction-related behaviors and frequently co-morbid disease states such as attention-deficit disorder, anxiety, and depression. Using an integrative approach including optogenetics, pharmacology, and both in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology, she explores such problems as how neural circuits differently encode positive and negative cues from the environment; if and how perturbations in neural circuits mediating reward processing, fear, motivation, memory, and inhibitory control underlie the co-morbidity of substance abuse, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety, and depression; and how emotional states such as increased anxiety might increase the propensity for substance abuse by facilitating long-term changes associated with reward-related learning.

Tye received her BS in brain and cognitive sciences from MIT in 2003 and earned her PhD in 2008 at the University of California at San Francisco under the direction of Patricia Janak. After she completed her postdoctoral training with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University in 2011, she returned to the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences as a faculty member in 2012. Original Article »

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A Matter of Taste: Can a Sweet Tooth Be Switched Off in the Brain?

A study describes the complex brain circuitry that lets us identify, savor (or recoil from) a taste 

…The new study, published Wednesday in Nature, builds on these findings to delve deeper into the brain’s taste circuitry. The researchers genetically engineered mice to produce fluorescent proteins in neurons—green in the sweet cortex, red in the bitter cortex. They then traced the connections emanating from these cells to other regions. They were especially interested in the amygdala, a brain structure involved in processing emotion and assigning positive or negative values, or valence, to sensory input. The specialization in different areas of the cortex was remarkably preserved—sweet cells connected primarily to an area called the anterior basolateral amygdala whereas bitter cells mainly linked to the central amygdala. “This elegant study provides new insight into the architecture of positive and negative valence in taste,” says neuroscientist Kay Tye of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the study. “The segregation of sweet and bitter [connections] across different amygdalar nuclei was stunning.” Original Article »

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Brain circuit helps us learn by watching others

Scientists pinpoint neural interactions that are necessary for observational learning.

It’s often said that experience is the best teacher, but the experiences of other people may be even better. If you saw a friend get chased by a neighborhood dog, for instance, you would learn to stay away from the dog without having to undergo that experience yourself.

This kind of learning, known as observational learning, offers a major evolutionary advantage, says Kay Tye, an MIT associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

“So much of what we learn day-to-day is through observation,” she says. “Especially for something that is going to potentially hurt or kill you, you could imagine that the cost of learning it firsthand is very high. The ability to learn it through observation is extremely adaptive, and gives a major advantage for survival.” Original Article »

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Lifting the veil on “valence,” brain study reveals roots of desire and dislike

Researchers map the amygdala’s distinct but diverse and dynamic neighborhoods where feelings are assigned.

The amygdala is a tiny hub of emotions where in 2016 a team led by MIT neuroscientist Kay Tye found specific populations of neurons that assign good or bad feelings, or “valence,” to experience. Learning to associate pleasure with a tasty food, or aversion to a foul-tasting one, is a primal function and key to survival.

In a new study in Cell Reports, Tye’s team at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory returns to the amygdala for an unprecedentedly deep dive into its inner workings. Focusing on a particular section called the basolateral amygdala, the researchers show how valence-processing circuitry is organized and how key neurons in those circuits interact with others. What they reveal is a region with distinct but diverse and dynamic neighborhoods where valence is sorted out by both connecting with other brain regions and sparking cross-talk within the basolateral amygdala itself. Original Article »

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Kay Tye receives NIH Pioneer Award

Kay M. Tye, the Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, was awarded the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for her project Neural Circuit Mechanisms of Social Homeostasis in Individuals and Supraorganismal Groups. The award supports investigators to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science. Original Article »

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