The Harony-Nicolas Lab

Harony-Nicolas Lab

Brain circuits of social behavior




Research in our lab is focused on understating the mechanisms underlying social behavior deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the implication of the hypothalamic oxytocin system in ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Social behavior is modulated by brain regions, which form brain circuits through functional and anatomical connectivity. Information processing within these neural circuits is not hard-wired but rather adaptive to the surrounding environment, in part due to the activity of neuromodulators such as oxytocin. In our lab, we are interested in understanding how oxytocin neurons in the hypothalamus behave during social behaviors. We are also interested in studying the impact of mutations in high risk genes for ASD on the hypothalamic oxytocin system and the implication of the this system in social behavior deficits, which are a core symptom of ASD.

Current projects in our lab include (1) studying the effect of mutations in the Shank3 gene, a high risk gene for ASD, on social brain circuits involving the oxytocin system, (2) understanding basic mechanisms of function of oxytocin neurons during social behavior, and (3) improving oxytocin and other peptide delivery to the brain.

To address our scientific questions and to dissect molecular pathways and neural circuits of social behavior, we use transgenic rat models for ASD and apply behavioral and molecular neuroscience approaches, including, fiber photometry, brain microdialysis, and cutting-edge chemo-genetic tools.

Contact Us

Harony-Nicolas Lab
Assistant Professor, Psychiatry
Lab: Annenberg 22-38 
Office: Annenberg 22-38A
Phone: 212.241.0343



Deletion of the KH1 Domain of Fmr1 Leads to Transcriptional Alterations and Attentional Deficits in Rats.

Golden CEM, Breen MS, Koro L, Sonar S, Niblo K, Browne A, Burlant N, Di Marino D, De Rubeis S, Baxter MG, Buxbaum JD, Harony-Nicolas H. Cerebral Cortex, Volume 29, Issue 5, 2019 May, Pages 2228–2244. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz029.


Oxytocin as a Modulator of Synaptic Plasticity: Implications for Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Rajamani KT, Wagner S, Grinevich V, Harony-Nicolas H. Frontiers in Synaptic Neurosci. 2018 Jun; 19. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2018.00017.

Developmental social communication deficits in the Shank3 rat model of phelan-mcdermid syndrome and autism spectrum disorder.

Berg EL, Copping NA, Rivera JK, Pride MC, Careaga M, Bauman MD, Berman RF, Lein PJ, Harony-Nicolas H, Buxbaum JD, Ellegood J, Lerch JP, Wöhr M, Silverman JL. Autism Res. 2018 Apr; 11(4):587-601. doi: 10.1002/aur.1925.

Shank3-deficient rats exhibit degraded cortical responses to sound.

Engineer CT, Rahebi KC, Borland MS, Buell EP, Im KW, Wilson LG, Sharma P, Vanneste S, Harony-Nicolas H, Buxbaum JD, Kilgard MP. Autism Res. 2018 Jan;11(1):59-68. doi: 10.1002/aur.1883.

Oxytocin and Animal Models for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Wagner S, Harony-Nicolas H. Behavioral Pharmacology of Neuropeptides: Oxytocin. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, vol 35; 213-237. 2017 Sept. doi: 10.1007/7854_2017_15.

Oxytocin improves behavioral and electrophysiological deficits in a novel Shank3-deficient rat.

Harony-Nicolas H, Kay M, Hoffmann JD, Klein ME, Bozdagi-Gunal O, Riad M, Daskalakis NP, Sonar S, Castillo PE, Hof PR, Shapiro ML, Baxter MG, Wagner S, Buxbaum JD. eLife 2017 Jan; 6. doi: 10.7554/eLife.18904.

Autism spectrum disorder: neuropathology and animal models.

Varghese M, Keshav N, Jacot-Descombes S, Warda T, Wicinski B, Dickstein DL, Harony-Nicolas H, De Rubeis S, Drapeau E, Buxbaum JD, Hof PR. Acta neuropathologica 2017 Jun; 5. doi: 10.1007/s00401-017-1736-4.


Cyfip1 Regulates Presynaptic Activity during Development.

Hsiao K, Harony-Nicolas H, Buxbaum JD, Bozdagi-Gunal O, Benson DL.The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2016 Feb; 3. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0511-15.2016.

Phelan McDermid Syndrome: From Genetic Discoveries to Animal Models and Treatment.

Harony-Nicolas H, De Rubeis S, Kolevzon A, Buxbaum JD. Journal of child neurology 2015 Dec; 30(14). doi: 10.1177/0883073815600872.

Ultrastructural analyses in the hippocampus CA1 field in Shank3-deficient mice.

Uppal N, Puri R, Yuk F, Janssen WG, Bozdagi-Gunal O, Harony-Nicolas H, Dickstein DL, Buxbaum JD, Hof PR. Molecular autism 2015; 6. doi: 10.1186/s13229-015-0036-x.

2014 & Earlier
Brain region-specific methylation in the promoter of the murine oxytocin receptor gene is involved in its expression regulation.

Harony-Nicolas H, Mamrut S, Brodsky L, Shahar-Gold H, Barki-Harrington L, Wagner S. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2014 Jan; 39. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.10.004.

Identification of small exonic CNV from whole-exome sequence data and application to autism spectrum disorder.

Poultney CS, Goldberg AP, Drapeau E, Kou Y, Harony-Nicolas H, Kajiwara Y, De Rubeis S, Durand S, Stevens C, Rehnström K, Palotie A, Daly MJ, Ma’ayan A, Fromer M, Buxbaum JD. American journal of human genetics 2013 Oct; 93(4). doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.09.001.

DNA methylation of specific CpG sites in the promoter region regulates the transcription of the mouse oxytocin receptor.

Mamrut S, Harony H, Sood R, Shahar-Gold H, Gainer H, Shi YJ, Barki-Harrington L, Wagner S. PloS one 2013; 8(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056869.

The contribution of oxytocin and vasopressin to mammalian social behavior: potential role in autism spectrum disorder.

Harony H, Wagner S. Neuro-Signals 2010; 18(2). doi: 10.1159/000321035.

What do unicellular organisms teach us about DNA methylation?

Harony H, Ankri S. Trends in parasitology 2008 May; 24(5). doi: 10.1016/

Sensing DNA methylation in the protozoan parasite Entamoeba histolytica.

Lavi T, Isakov E, Harony H, Fisher O, Siman-Tov R, Ankri S. Molecular microbiology 2006 Dec; 62(5).

DNA methylation and targeting of LINE retrotransposons in Entamoeba histolytica and Entamoeba invadens.

Harony H, Bernes S, Siman-Tov R, Ankri S. Molecular and biochemical parasitology 2006 May; 147(1).

Meet the Team

Keerthi Thirtamara Rajamani, PhD

Keerthi Thirtamara Rajamani, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Amanda Leithead, MS

Amanda Leithead, MS

Graduate Student

Carla Golden

Carla Golden

Graduate Student

Michael Peruggia

Michael Peruggia

Associate Researcher

Kristi Niblo

Kristi Niblo

Associate Researcher

Lab Alumni

Natalie Burlant

Natalie Burlant

Associate Researcher

Lacin Koro

Lacin Koro

Associate Researcher

Camille Goldman

Camille Goldman

SURP Intern


Join the Team

Our lab is always looking for highly motivated scientists with a considerable background in molecular and behavioral neuroscience.

If you are interested in joining the lab as a postdoctoral fellow or graduate student, please send a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of three references who could provide letters of recommendation to Dr. Hala Harony-Nicolas at:


We currently have an NIH funded postdoctoral position. To learn more about the requirements of the position and to submit your application please visit the following link:


Volunteers with some background in neuroscience and biology, yet with high passion and motivation to science are always welcome. If interested, please send your resume to Dr. Hala Harony-Nicolas at: