Affiliation: Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, DE
Keywords:social brain, positive and negative emotions, emotional contagion, empathy, amygdala, fear, fear extinction, automated behavioral tracing, autism
Ewelina Knapska obtained her PhD at the Nencki Institute, Warsaw, Poland in 2006 with a series of works on anatomical and functional heterogeneity of the amygdala. After spending two years at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA as a postdoc at Stephen Maren’s laboratory, she returned to the Nencki Institute, where she became an assistant professor and now, as an associate professor, she is the head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology of Emotions. She received Polish Prime Minister Award for the PhD thesis (2007), Fellowship for Outstanding Young Researchers awarded by Ministry of Science and Higher Education (2010-2012), Burgen Scholarship (for outstanding scientific achievements) from Academia Europea (2013) and Polish Prime Minister Award for Habilitation (2014). She is currently working on the characterization of `social brain’ supported by her ERC Starting Grant.
Ewelina Knapska studies which neurons in the brain are responsible for emotions, how they are connected, how this entire network works and, in particular, is there are any differences in the working of this network for positive and negative emotions caused by social interactions. She also investigates plastic changes in this network within the amygdala – a brain region related to processing emotions – with the ultimate goal of applying knowledge gained by studying malfunctioning of the neurons in rodent models to therapies targeting autism spectrum disorders. To this end, she developed an experimental model and revealed the role of the amygdala in socially transferred emotions and identified different populations of neurons activated by high and low levels of fear thanks to a newly developed tracing technique. She also elucidated the molecular basis of `positive’ and `negative’ motivation by showing the involvement of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) in the central amygdala. Last but not least, she developed new tests to study cognitive abilities and social interactions of mice in automated systems.