Social cognition is the ability to detect, store, and evaluate social information and it is critical for how we think, feel, and interact with others. Impairment of social cognition is a defining feature of many neuropsychiatric diseases including autism, schizophrenia, and mood disorders. The major goal of our research is to understand the neural mechanisms underlying social cognitive processes such as social perception, social memory, and social decision-making. We are particularly interested in how molecular and neuromodulatory actions shape synaptic properties and circuit function. To achieve this, we combine a variety of approaches across molecular, synaptic, and behavioral scales which include single-cell transcriptomics, ex vivo electrophysiology, in vivo photometric recordings, and optogenetics.
Wu X, Morishita W, Beier KT, Heifets B, Malenka RC. 5-HT modulation of a medial septal circuit tunes social memory stability. Nature. 2021 Oct 6. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03956-8
Walsh JJ, Christoffel DJ, Wu X, Pomrenze MB, Malenka RC. Dissecting neural mechanisms of prosocial behaviors. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2020 Dec 2;68:9-14.
Wu X, Morishita WK, Riley AM, Hale WD, Südhof TC, Malenka RC. Neuroligin-1 Signaling Controls LTP and NMDA Receptors by Distinct Molecular Pathways. Neuron. 2019 May 8;102(3):621-635.
Pavel M, Imarisio S, Menzies FM, Jimenez-Sanchez M, Siddiqi FH, Wu X, Renna M, O’Kane CJ, Crowther DC, Rubinsztein DC. CCT complex restricts neuropathogenic protein aggregation via autophagy. Nat Commun. 2016 Dec 8;7:13821.
Wu X, Fleming A, Ricketts T, Pavel M, Virgin H, Menzies FM, Rubinsztein DC. Autophagy regulates Notch degradation and modulates stem cell development and neurogenesis. Nat Commun. 2016 Feb 3;7:10533.
Wu X, Won H, Rubinsztein DC. Autophagy and mammalian development. Biochem Soc Trans. 2013 Dec;41(6):1489-94.
Links to Papers
Projects (Research Areas)
Neural circuits and dynamics governing social cognition
For an animal to thrive in its social environment it must recognize other animals and conspecifics and differentiate between friend and foe or kin and stranger. Moreover, it is critical for an animal to remember relevant social interactions to adapt appropriately to its social environment. How are these different social signals recognized, consolidated, and acted upon?
Our previous work (Wu et al., Nature, 2021) demonstrated that distinct molecular and circuit mechanisms control social versus non-social memory and contribute to the pathophysiology of autism. Building on those findings, our future research will address how synaptic plasticity and neural circuits orchestrate the formation of social representation and drive social decision-making.
Pathophysiology of social cognitive deficits
Social abnormalities in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism are caused by a variety of factors. While social motivational changes are prominent contributors, they do not fully explain deficiencies in social interactions, facial recognition, and emotional processing. Research has only just begun to understand how synaptic and circuit changes give rise to social cognitive deficits. Our research seeks to understand how genetic mutation/deletion of synaptic molecules (Wu et al., Neuron, 2019) result in the pathophysiology of social cognitive defects and to develop approaches to reverse them.
Funding & Awards
5K99MH122697-02 (Wu: PI)
Title: The role of the septum in social memory
2021 Trainee Professional Development Award, Society for Neuroscience
2017 – 2019 Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
2012 – 2016 Pre-doctoral Fellowship, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung
2010 – 2012 Advanced Studies Fellowship, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung
2010 iGEM Competition Travel Award, iGEM Heidelberg
2009 Erasmus Exchange Scholarship, Erasmus foundation
Join the Team
Xiaoting Wu, PhD
Assistant Professor, Neuroscience
We are actively recruiting postdocs, graduate students, and research assistants. If interested, please send a brief description of your research experience and goals, a CV, and contact information for at least 2 references to firstname.lastname@example.org. Graduate students interested in rotation projects are encouraged to get in touch via email.