McHenry Lab

Jenna McHenry, PhD, PI

Genome Research Science Building II
Room 3022

572 Research Drive, Rm 3022
Durham, NC 27708
Mail: Duke Box 91050


  • Ph.D., Florida State University 2013
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013-2018

My central research focus is to understand how social information is encoded in neural circuits that regulate affective and motivational states. My lab employs a combination of approaches, including in vivo deep-brain calcium imaging with single-cell resolution (2-photon microscopy and miniaturized scopes) and optogenetics, to monitor and manipulate the activity of neurons with anatomical and molecular precision in awake behaving mice.

A major goal of this work is to characterize the functional connections between the medial preoptic area (mPOA), an essential site for social behavior, and key centers that regulate positive and negative affect. We are interested in understanding how prosocial experience recruits these circuits to promote social motivation and buffer against stress and anxiety, and conversely how chronic stress perturbs these processes. A second line of research investigates whether social reward systems are separate from or overlapping with those that govern nonsocial natural reward. For example, we are imaging midbrain dopaminergic neurons with single-cell resolution and making comparisons between social versus nonsocial reward. While the mesolimbic dopamine system has been well implicated in adaptive and maladaptive reward processing, it is unknown whether social motivation deficits are due to perturbations in specialized social pathways or due to more generalized reward disruptions. Identifying whether subnetworks of neurons within the reward system are specialized for socially-relevant emotional states could help discover the ways in which certain behavioral abnormalities arise. Collectively, these studies will provide insights into social and motivational processes that are disrupted across a range of conditions, including major depression, reproductive mood disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.