Scott Juntti headshot
Contact Info
Phone: 301.405.8128
Fax: 301.314.9358
Office Address: Rm 2277 Biology-Psychology Bldg
Scott Juntti
William J. Higgins Assistant Professor

Research Interests

How does the brain produce social behaviors? While we are all familiar with these behaviors, their origins in neural circuits and in evolution remain mysterious. Social behaviors are important for navigating our communities, raising well-adjusted offspring, and maintaining our own wellbeing. Additionally, these behaviors are disrupted in conditions including autism, social anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia.

Identifying genes and neurons that regulate social behaviors.

In the Juntti Lab, we use a multidisciplinary approach that spans timescales and disciplines. We focus on behaviors that are conserved across vertebrate species including mating, aggression, and parenting. These behaviors are conserved in the fascinating family of cichlid fishes that we study (more below). Innate social behaviors rely on signaling pathways including testosterone, estrogen, and prostaglandins. We manipulate these pathways by pharmacologic and genetic means (CRISPR), and quantitatively measure the resulting behavioral changes. We also use candidate and unbiased approaches to identify other genes that impact social behaviors. These techniques highlight additional genes and neurons that we can subsequently manipulate with genome editing and other tools that work robustly in cichlids. Our work will provide an understanding of how neural circuits function to generate social behaviors.

A variety of social systems among cichlids.

There are over 2000 species of cichlids, found predominantly in the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa. These species are ideal model species because they have robust social behaviors and a tremendous variety of social systems, including monogamy and polygamy; parental care by females, males, or both; aggressive territoriality and relative gregariousness. They communicate via auditory, chemical, and visual means that differ across species. In fact, these cues are crucial for females as they choose a mate, and her selection of specific characteristics likely contributed to this explosive radiation of species. Several dozen cichlid species genomes have been sequenced, and falling sequencing costs enable additional genomes to be sequenced at will. Most work focuses on the cichlid Astatotilapia burtoni, a species from Lake Tanganyika with a sequenced genome that we study in the lab. We will also exploit the variety of cichlid species with social systems that are not found in any traditional laboratory model organism to gain insights into complex social behaviors.

Interested? Visit our Lab website.


B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
Postdoctoral Training, Stanford University

All Publications

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Latest Publications via PubMed

Bowers JM,Li CY,Parker CG,Westbrook ME,Juntti SA
Integr Comp Biol. 2023 Aug 23;63(2):407-427. doi: 10.1093/icb/icad049. Epub
Cai LT,Krishna VS,Hladnik TC,Guilbeault NC,Vijayakumar C,Arunachalam M,Juntti SA,Arrenberg AB,Thiele TR,Cooper EA
Sci Rep. 2023 Jul 25;13(1):12028. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-36099-z. Epub 2023 Jul 25
Li CY,Lawrence K,Merlo-Coyne J,Juntti SA
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Jan 3;120(1):e2214418120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2214418120. Epub 2022 Dec 30
Alexander E,Cai LT,Fuchs S,Hladnik TC,Zhang Y,Subramanian V,Guilbeault NC,Vijayakumar C,Arunachalam M,Juntti SA,Thiele TR,Arrenberg AB,Cooper EA
Curr Biol. 2022 Dec 5;32(23):5008-5021.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.10.009. Epub 2022 Nov 2
Clark B,Elkin J,Marconi A,Turner GF,Smith AM,Joyce D,Miska EA,Juntti SA,Santos ME
R Soc Open Sci. 2022 Apr;9(4):220077. doi: 10.1098/rsos.220077. Epub 2022 Apr 20
Li CY,Steighner JR,Sweatt G,Thiele TR,Juntti SA
Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 23;11(1):15138. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-94577-8. Epub 2021 Jul 23
Alward BA,Laud VA,Skalnik CJ,York RA,Juntti SA,Fernald RD
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Nov 10;117(45):28167-28174. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2008925117. Epub 2020 Oct 26