Kathryn Commons

Kathryn Commons

Associate Professor of Anaesthesia
Kathryn Commons

I am interested in understanding how serotonin neurons in the brain work to modify behavior and how they go-wrong to contribute to psychopathology. One goal of my research is to get a better handle on how serotonin neurons are organized in the brain. Subsets of serotonin neurons may be dedicated to subsets of functions, and as a consequence have particular importance for certain disorders but not others. Since the organization of serotonin neurons is particularly complex, functionally relevant modules within the system have yet to be defined. The current limited understanding of how serotonin neurons are organized may be an important factor that drives contradictory findings in the field.

Serotonin pharmacotherapy is used for many conditions. Are serotonin neurons particularly vulnerable and therefore commonly contribute to psychopathology? Using genetic models of disease, we would like to understand how serotonin neurons malfunction and define their vulnerabilities. Feedback mechanisms, common in the serotonin system, are of particular interest for two reasons. First, feedback mechanisms are control mechanisms, and in disease states serotonin neurotransmission appears to be out of control. Second, feedback mechanisms can generate certain types of instability, and this could have consequences on behavior. In addition, we are interested in the network of axons that control serotonin neuron activity, particularly those that arise from the cortex, as a potential site of vulnerability.

New techniques and old ones, applied in new ways, are brought to bear on these problems. A strength of my lab is in using imaging and neuroanatomical techniques to provide new insight into how serotonin neurons work. These are combined with behavioral pharmacology, genetic tools and other complimentary approaches.

Contact Information

Boston Children's Hospital
Enders 307
300 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
p: 617-919-2220