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Doctorate Awarded for Research on How the Brain Shapes Reactions to Emotion in Sound

This summer, doctoral degrees were awarded to several candidates who successfully defended their dissertations resulting from research conducted at Northeast Ohio Medical University with NEOMED faculty mentors as part of the cooperative Kent State University/NEOMED Biomedical Sciences program.

Congratulations to Zahra Ghasemahmad, who on July 10 became Dr. Ghasemahmad!

Working with Jeffrey Wenstrup, Ph.D., of the Hearing Research group, Dr. Ghasemahmad wrote the dissertation “Behavioral and Neuromodulatory Responses to Emotional Vocalizations in Mice.”

Dr. Ghasemahmad (pronounced gaa SEM amad) explains, “My work is focused on understanding how the brain shapes reactions to emotional vocalizations. To explore this question in a mechanistic way, I used a mouse model. I first sought to understand mouse vocal communication. Then, I studied how male and female mice behaviorally respond to vocalizations linked to positive and negative experiences. Lastly, I examined the release of chemicals in the amygdala – an emotional center in the brain – while mice listened and reacted to these vocalizations.

“My work shows that the release of Dopamine (a brain chemical that is mainly involved in pleasurable experiences) and Acetylcholine (another brain chemical, which is mainly involved in wariness as well as negative experiences) is inversely shaped by vocalizations emitted in negative and positive emotional situations. Further, Acetylcholine is released differently in response to these vocal stimuli, depending on the female’s hormonal stage.

“These findings demonstrate how the brain mechanism underlying vocal communication is based on the emotional content of the vocalizations, as well as the gender and hormonal stage of the listener. Not only does this research help to understand the brain mechanism underlying our day-to-day communications. It also could lay the groundwork for understanding how reactions to emotional communications are changed in diseases such as PTSD, schizophrenia and autism.”