Research Interests

Humans and animals can acquire fears by observing conspecifics being subjected to aversive events. Observational fear is induced by social transmission of the demonstrator animal’s affective state and the neural substrate for empathy seems to overlap with neural circuits for observational fear. 

 

Located at Center for Cognition and Sociality in Institute for Basic Science (IBS), the mission of the KEUM laboratory is to decipher neural basis of observational fear, a behavioral model of affective empathy. Utilizing in vivo calcium imaging of neural activity, optogenetic manipulation, neuroanatomical tracing, and advanced molecular genetic techniques (RNAseq and CRISPR), our group seeks to find mechanistic explanation for how the brain generates the affect sharing, and how pathological dysfunction within these brain networks causes abnormal empathic responses. We hope that understanding of the molecular and circuit mechanisms of observational fear will provide novel insights into effective treatments for psychiatric disorders associated with empathy.

Active Projects

NEURAL CODING OF OBSERVATIONAL FEAR

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is activated and required for the acquisition of observational fear response. To explore how social information is integrated and processed in the ACC, we determine neural ensembles encoding observational fear using in vivo calcium imaging and neural circuit manipulation in freely behaving mice. 

THALAMOCORTICAL CIRCUITS RELAYING AFFECTIVE PAINS 

The ACC receives nociceptive information from the thalamus. We are interested in how the thalamus plays a role in cortical control of observational fear, and how the affective pain signal is integrated via thalamo-cingulate circuits.

GENES AND SYNAPTIC FUNCTIONS CONTROLLING OBSERVATIONAL FEAR

Disturbance of empathy is a salient feature of many neuropsychiatric conditions. Using inbred mice and genetic models of psychiatric disorders, we aim to identify novel genes and underlying signaling pathways to probe synaptic and circuit dysfunctions that cause abnormal empathic ability.