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Director’s Update: Miranda Lim to receive Lindsley Prize for research in behavioral neuroscience

The prestigious Donald B. Lindsley Prize in Behavioral Neuroscience will be awarded to Miranda M. Lim, Ph.D., at the 2005 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC. Dr. Lim, whose research is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was mentored by Larry Young, Ph.D., of Emory University. The Prize, which recognizes meritorious research in behavioral neuroscience, is awarded for the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the general area of behavioral neuroscience submitted and approved during the previous calendar year. The honor will be announced on Monday, November 14, prior to the Grass Foundation Lecture held at the annual meeting.

The research for which Dr. Lim will be honored traced the activity in the brains of voles — small mouse-like animals-responsible for a specific social behavior trait, social attachment. There are two very closely related species of voles-one species forms long-term pair bonds, and the other does not. Lim identified vasopressin receptor activation in reward regions of the brains of the pair bonding species. She then used genetic engineering to increase the vasopressin receptor activity in the reward regions for the non-pair bonding vole species, causing them to form monogamous bonds. These findings led to the hypothesis that pair bonding is the result of a conditioned association between the partner and reward. In the vole brain, that connection is made by concurrent activation of vasopressin receptors and reward circuitry. These findings also demonstrate that, at least in rodents, certain social behaviors may be controlled by changes in a single gene. Recently, Dr. Lim has extended her research into two new areas: the role of corticotropin-releasing factor in the neural control of pair bond formation, and the molecular and structural changes that take place in the brain during life experiences. She hypothesizes that similar neural mechanisms underlie learning, drug addiction, and pair bond formation.

Dr. Lim's work is part of a two decades-old scientific quest for the neural basis of social behavior begun at the NIMH Intramural Research Program in the mid 1980s by now NIMH director Thomas Insel, M.D. By 1993, his team had discovered that the distribution of brain receptors that bind to the hormone vasopressin differed dramatically between monogamous and polygamous vole species and accounted for their divergent lifestyles. Dr. Lim is an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University, School of Medicine. She defended her Ph.D. in March 2004. Upon graduation from medical school in May 2006, Dr. Lim plans to pursue a residency in neurology.