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.


Individuals in a population respond differently to stress, with some being better able to recover quickly and efficiently from stressful situations. A major research direction of our lab is the role of ‘developmental’ factors in physiological hypothalamic function. We study how critical determinants of hypothalamic development affect the response of adult animals to stressful challenges. We also seek for neuro-developmental mechanisms underlying individual variations to stressful events.

Selected Publications

  • Nunes, A.R#, Gliksberg, M.#, Varela, S.A.M, Teles, M., Wircer, E., Blechman, J., Petri, G., Levkowitz, G.* and R.F. Oliveira* (2021) Developmental effects of oxytocin neurons on social affiliation and processing of social information. Journal of Neuroscience 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2939-20.2021. pubmed
  • Biran, J., Gliksberg, M., Shirat, I., Swaminathan, A., Levitas-Djerbi, T., Appelbaum, L. and G. Levkowitz. (2020). Splice-specific deficiency of the PTSD-associated gene PAC1 leads to a paradoxical age-dependent stress behavior. Scientific Reports 10:9559. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-66447-2.  pubmed
  • Anbalagan S., Blechman J., Gliksberg M., Gordon L., Rotkopf R., Dadosh T., Shimoni E. and G. Levkowitz. (2019). Robo2 regulates synaptic oxytocin content by affecting actin dynamics. eLife 8.  DOI: 10.7554/eLife.45650. pubmed
  • 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 6. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.22170. 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