Type: Associate Faculty
PhD, Cornell University
Postdoctoral, Emory University
Website: McGraw Lab
Research in my laboratory combines approaches derived from molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and neuroscience rooted in an evolutionary biology framework to uncover functional links between genes, the brain and complex behaviors. Our research utilizes a unique model organism, the prairie vole. These hamster-sized rodents differ from more traditional laboratory animals in that they are highly social and socially monogamous. We employ comparative studies between prairie voles and other closely related, but asocial, promiscuous vole species to explore the neurogenomic architecture of both social and reproductive behaviors.
We have two primary research foci in the lab. First, we are studying the genomic architecture of the pair bond by investigating the links between the genome, the brain and social attachment. In mammals, fewer than 5% of species form life-long partnerships, or pair bonds, with their mates. Like our own species, prairie voles are a unique exception. Unlike our own species, however, when introduced to a partner of the opposite sex in the laboratory, they will typically form a pair bond within eight hours of the first mating bout. Both in the laboratory and in natural populations, the propensity of individuals to form pair bonds is highly variable where some animals form strong pair bonds while others display more asocial behaviors. Moreover, other closely related voles species rarely form pair bonds. Thus, studies of pair bonding in these species provide a unique opportunity to explore the genetics and neural circuitry underlying this behavior by examining both intra-specific variation and inter-specific differences.
Second, we are dissecting the molecular, genetic, and neurobiological basis of male x female mating interactions. The acts of mate choice, courtship, copulation, and the behavioral and physiological responses both accompanying and following mating are two-way processes that depend upon complex biological interactions between the mating pair. One intriguing example of male by female interactions in mating occurs during copulation when the male ejaculate, including sperm and seminal fluid proteins (Sfps) comes in contact with the female. Although sperm and Sfps are critical to fertilization, these cells and proteins may also impact the female's behavior and physiology. Not only are prairie voles an invaluable mammalian animal model for dissecting the biological basis of social affiliation, but the incredible diversity of mating system types within the genus Microtus provides a rich opportunity to explore the effects of Sfps on female behavior in an evolutionary context.
McGraw, L.A., Davis, J.K., Larry J. Young, L.J., Thomas, J.W. (2011) A genetic linkage map and comparative mapping of the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) genome. BMC Genetics. 12:60.
Blumstein, D.T., Ebensperger, L., Hayes, L., Vásquez, R.A., Ahern, T.H., Burger, J.R., Dolezal, A.G. Dosmann, A., González-Mariscal G., Harris, B.N., Herrera, E.A., Lacey, E.I., Mateo, J., McGraw, L.A., Olazábal, D., Ramenofsky, M., Rubenstein, D.R., Sakhai, S.A., Saltzman, W., Sainz-Borgo, C., Soto-Gamboa, M., Stewart, M.L., Wey, T.W., Wingfield, J.C. and Larry J. Young, L.J. (2010) Towards an integrative understanding of social behavior: new models and new opportunities. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 4:34.
McGraw, L.A., Davis, J.K., Lowman, J.J., te Hallers, B., Koriabine, M., Young, L.J., de Jong, P.J., Rudd, M.K. and Thomas, J.W. (2010) Development of genomic resources for the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster): construction of a BAC library and vole-mouse comparative cytogenetic map. BMC Genomics. 11:70.
McGraw, L.A., Szekely, T., Young, L.J. (2010) Pair bonds and Parental Behavior. Chapter in Social Behaviour: Genes, Ecology and Evolution. Edited by Tamás Székely, Allen J. Moore and Jan Komdeur. Cambridge University Press. 271-300.
McGraw, L.A. and Young, L.J. (2010) The prairie vole: an emerging model organism for understanding the social brain. Trends in Neurosciences. 33:103-109.