Sullivan Lab

Our research is focused primarily on exploring the behavioral and neural development of infant rats, with emphasis on unique features of early life learning that provide both constraints and facilitation of learning that ensures infants attach to the caregiver.

We further investigate how early life developmental perturbations with the caregiver alter this early life learning and attachment to initiate pathways to pathology. 

Finally, we examine how our infant neurobehavioral manipulations are altered during development (weaning, adolescence, adulthood).

Current Investigations

  • Exploring the neurobiology of trauma experienced with and without the caregiver.  This work is showing unique processing of trauma in infancy compared to adults, which is further altered by maternal presence. 
  • Exploring the development of functional connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.  We ask how early life trauma disrupts this development and its impact on behavioral development.
  • Exploring the development of amygdala dependent fear learning and how this is altered by experiencing early life trauma.

Research Focus

To better understand the neurobiology of attachment in infant rats, including attachments formed with an abusive caregiver.

Within this context we use a fear- conditioning paradigm to understand the neurobiology of fear ontogeny or origination. This research indicates that infants process trauma differently than adults, due in part, to the infant attachment learning circuit and the delayed functional emergence of amygdala-dependent fear learning.

Finally, the lab studies the enduring effects of early life trauma within the context of experiencing trauma with co-activation of the attachment circuitry.