Social Neurosciences Research Program
The principal goal of the Parker Lab Social Neurosciences Research Program at Stanford University is to better understand the biology of social functioning using an integrative, translational approach. Our behavioral research spans studies of individual differences in rhesus monkey social development to studies of social cognition impairments in various clinical populations (e.g., in children with autism; in survivors of hypothalamic-pituitary tumors; in adults with posttraumatic stress disorder). We are also developing several innovative monkey models of social impairments, including studies of rhesus monkeys that naturally exhibit social cognition deficits and common marmoset monkeys which are engineered to do so. Our biological studies employ epigenetic, gene expression, and neurotransmitter-based approaches to identify biomarkers of impaired social functioning, and we also conduct treatment trials to test the efficacy of novel pharmacotherapies to improve social abilities in low-social monkeys and in children with autism. Our lab is particularly interested in testing whether “social” neuropeptide (e.g., oxytocin and arginine vasopressin) signaling pathways are implicated in human and non-human primate social behavior, and whether these neuropeptide pathways are robust biomarkers of, and treatment targets for, social impairments in clinical populations.
Please visit our “research studies” page to learn more about the specific projects our team is currently conducting, and ways in which YOU can help move research forward, either by joining our research team, participating in one of our research studies, or by donating to our research program.
Our recent clinical trial showed that social behavior improved in children with autism after they inhaled a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin treatment was safe with minimal side-effects. Vasopressin promotes social functioning in mammals, and our team previously reported that cerebrospinal fluid vasopressin levels are low in children with autism. This is the first study to test intranasal vasopressin for any indication in children. Although small, the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of 30 children provides early evidence that vasopressin may reduce social impairments in this neurodevelopmental disorder, which affects 1 in 59 U.S. children. These findings were published online May 1 in Science Translational Medicine.