September 23, 2021

Salk neuroscientist Kay Tye selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Salk News

Salk neuroscientist Kay Tye selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Kay Tye has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, joining a prestigious group of more than 250 HHMI investigators across the United States who are tackling important scientific questions.

“Kay’s research has broken new ground in creating both mathematical models and conceptual frameworks for how individuals regulate their social needs,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “Her appointment to HHMI investigator is well deserved, and we are honored that HHMI will join us in supporting her research here at Salk.”

Kay Tye
Kay Tye
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Credit: Salk Institute

Tye, who is a member of the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory and holds the Wylie Vale Chair, is known for her seminal work on the neural-circuit basis of emotion that leads to motivated behaviors such as social interaction, reward-seeking and avoidance. She has pioneered the field of social homeostasis – understanding how individuals regulate their social environments, how they know their rank within a group, and how social groups maintain stability in a changing world.

In addition, her lab focuses on a wide range of disease-relevant behaviors. They recently discovered a brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice. This brain circuit could serve as a brain biomarker to predict the development of compulsive drinking. Tye’s multifaceted research also has applications in addressing mental health conditions such as attention-deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety and depression.

As a HHMI investigator, Tye will build predictive models for the brain dynamics and behavioral outputs of individual social agents, as well as social groups, and will continue to examine the neural circuits that govern social behavior among groups of animals. Specifically, she seeks to uncover how identity and rank impact the brain’s interpretation of physical cues (such as gestures). Her lab will also explore how different degrees of social isolation could lead to varying adjustment processes after reintroduction into a social group, a topic particularly relevant given pandemic-related shifts in remote work and physical distancing.

She was awarded the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists and the NIMH MERIT Award (R37) earlier this year and was ranked as one of the most highly cited researchers in the world in 2019 and 2020 by Clarivate.

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