Hypothalamic function


We have a special interest is the molecular and cellular processes underlying morphogenesis and function of oxytocinergic neurons that affect both peripheral (i.e. neuroendocrine) and central nervous system activities. Oxytocin, is implicated in the central regulation of stress, social behaviors and appetite. In the periphery, oxytocin regulates labor and milk let-down.    Disruptions of the oxytocinergic system in humans have been implicated in Prader-Willi syndrome and autism. 

The fact that that zebrafish have merely 20-25 oxytocin neurons, presents us with the exceptional possibility to analyse their connectivity, molecular composition and function at a single-cell resolution. We study role of specific oxytocinergic circuits in  stress and social behaviors. We are also intersted in the regulation of oxytocin synthesis, transport and release.


Another major research direction of our lab is the role of ‘developmental’ factors in physiological hypothalamic function. Specifically, we study the role and mechanism of action of the homeodomain-containing protein Otp, which is a critical determinant of hypothalamic differentiation and play an active role in the response to stressful challenges of adult animals.

Selected Publications

  • Wircer E., J. Blechmann, N. Borodovsky, M. Tsoory, A.R. Nunes, R.F. Oliveira and G. Levkowitz. (2017). Homeodomain protein Otp affects developmental neuropeptide switching in oxytocin neurons associated with a long-term effect on social behavior. eLife e22170. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.22170 pubmed
  • Biran J, Tahor M, Wircer E and G. Levkowitz.  (2015). Role of developmental factors in hypothalamic function. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 9:47. doi:10.3389/fnana.2015.00047. pubmed
  • Amir-Zilberstein L., J. Blechman, Y. Sztainberg, W.H.J. Norton, A. Reuveny, J.L., N. Borodovsky, M. Tahor, Bonkowsky, L. Bally-Cuif, A. Chen and G. Levkowitz. (2012). Homeodomain protein Otp and activity-dependent splicing modulate neuronal adaptation to stress. Neuron 73:279-291. pubmed
  • Blechman J., A. Gutnick, L. Amir-Zilberstein and G. Levkowitz. (2011). The metabolic regulator PGC-1α directly controls the expression of the hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin. J. Neurosci. 31(42):14835-14840. pubmed