Dr. Opendak is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute. Research in the lab focuses on the developmental neurobiology of social behavior and the impact of experience, such as trauma, on infant circuits supporting complex behavior.
Dr. Opendak obtained her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Columbia University. She then earned her PhD in Neuroscience from Princeton University studying social behavior and adult brain plasticity in Dr. Elizabeth Gould’s lab. She completed her postdoctoral research fellowship at NYU Langone Health studying the neurobiology of attachment under the mentorship of Dr. Regina Sullivan.
How do we develop and adapt flexible strategies for interacting with others?
Disrupted social behavior is a core feature of compromised mental health, including anxiety and depression, and is a long-standing early diagnostic marker of disorders that emerge in later-life. Yet, we have little understanding of the ontogeny of social behavior neural circuits or how environmental perturbation at different stages of development impacts infant behavior. Using the infant rodent pup, Dr. Opendak’s research has laid the groundwork to identify specific infant neuroanatomical circuits that generate developmentally-appropriate social behavior and how these systems go awry following adversity. Her team’s work examines how ethologically-relevant social challenges, such as social hierarchy disruption and abusive caregiving during infancy, produce profound changes in brain structure and function to modify behavior. Her lab takes a unique approach by integrating state-of-the-art neurobiology techniques, such as optogenetics and in vivo electrophysiology, into the study of infant behavioral development. In addition to technical innovations, the team also seeks to improve the translational potential of their work through strong collaborations with clinicians and developmental psychologists. Dr. Opendak’s research program has been funded by a NIMH K99, F32, NARSAD Young Investigator Award and now through an R00 mechanism through the NIH BRAIN Initiative and a second NARSAD grant.