J. Thomas Curtis, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Physiology
Office 143A, phone 918-561-8471
Lab 417, phone 918-561-8283
For the past decade my research has focused on the social behavior of prairie voles. This species is among the few mammalian species that, like humans, form long-term bonds between the male and the female that comprise a mated pair. My collaborators and I have found that the brain processes that underlie pair-bond formation also are involved in substance abuse, and surprisingly, may play a critical role in the development and expression of autism.
When prairie voles form pair-bonds, their brains are changed, and, as a result, when confronted with an unfamiliar individual, they exhibit aversive responses rather than the affiliative response seen in non-pair-bonded voles. In other words, these animals respond negatively to a novel social interaction, and display a social aversion akin to that seen in autistic children.
In a seemingly unrelated line of research, one of my colleagues has shown that exposure to metals can change the brain in ways that, in voles, might produce the changes in social behavior that follow pair-bonding – an aversive response to social novelty.
We have combined the metals exposure and prairie voles to produce an excellent animal model in which to study environmental triggers of autism. Using this model, we have produced in an animal model, two of the core characteristics of autism – social aversion and a bias toward males. When voles are given a choice between an empty cage and a cage containing another vole, metals-treated male voles avoid tend to avoid social contact. Importantly, the changes in social behavior do not occur in females. Further, we have been able to link the changes in behavior to a specific brain region and neurotransmitter system. Metals treatment also alters responses to amphetamine, again, only in males, implicating the mesolimbic dopamine system in the response to metals exposure.
We now are expanding this model to take into account other aspects of autism. For example, autism is a childhood-onset disorder and thus, to be of maximum value, we will need to model perinatal influences on subsequent social behavior. In perhaps the most exciting result to date, it appears that perinatal exposure to metals produces the same male-biased changes in social behavior seen in other metals-treated voles – despite the fact that pups do not receive further metals exposure during the weeks between weaning and behavioral testing.
National Institutes of Health, “Mid-brain modulation of social attachment” 8/1/05-5/31/09 (R01 HD48462; Direct costs $415,000, Total costs $605,900).
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Intramural Research Grant, "Reward and pair bonding" 4/4/08-4/3/09 (CHS-0806; Direct Costs $4900)
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences "Intramural Grant - Autism Research Group" 3/09-3/11 (Direct costs $120,000). David R. Wallace - Co-investigator
National Institutes of Health. “Mating and social attachment”, 3/02 – 2/05 (F32 HD40722)
Sigma Xi, “Cardiovascular function in spiders” 5/97 - 5/98
American Arachnological Society, “Control of cardiac function in spiders”, 2/97 - 2/98.
National Institutes of Health “Dopamine regulation of social attachment” 9/1/05-8/31/10 (R01 MH58616; Direct costs $800,000, Total cost: $1,148,076). Co-investigator 9/1/05 - 7/1/06 (Z. Wang PI)
Sved, A.F., and J.T. Curtis. 1993. Amino acid neurotransmitters in nucleus tractus solitarius: An in vivo microdialysis study. Journal of Neurochemistry 61: 2089-2098.
Curtis, J.T. and J.E. Carrel. 1999. Social behavior by captive juvenile Kukulcania hibernalis (Araneae: Filistatidae). Bulletin of the British Arachnology Society 11: 241-246.
Curtis, J.T. and J.E. Carrel. 2000. Defecation behavior by Argiope aurantia. Bulletin of the British Arachnology Society 11: 339-342.
Curtis, J.T., Y. Liu, and Z.X. Wang. 2001. Lesions of the vomeronasal organ disrupt pair-bonding in female prairie voles. Brain Research 901: 167-174.
Liu, Y., J.T. Curtis and Z.X. Wang. 2001. Vasopressin in the lateral septum regulates pair bond formation in male prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Behavioral Neuroscience 115: 910-919.
Liu, Y., J.T. Curtis, C.D. Fowler, C. Spencer, T. Houpt, and Z.X. Wang. 2001. Differential expression of vasopressin, oxytocin, and corticotropin-releasing hormone messenger RNA in the paraventricular nucleus of the prairie vole brain following stress. Journal of Neuroendocrinology 13: 1059-1065
Aragona, B.J., J.T. Curtis, A.J. Davidson, Z.X. Wang, and F.K. Stephan. 2002. Behavioral and neurochemical investigation of circadian time-place learning in the rat. Journal of Biological Rhythms 17: 330-344.
Curtis, J.T. 2002. A blond coat color variation in Meadow Voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Journal of Heredity 93:209-210.
Curtis, J.T., J.R. Stowe, and Z.X. Wang. 2003. Differential effects of intraspecific interactions on the striatal dopamine system in social and non-social voles. Neuroscience 118:1165-1173.
Aragona, B.J., Y. Liu, J.T. Curtis, F.K. Stephan, and Z.X. Wang. 2003. A critical role for dopamine in pair bonding in male prairie voles. Journal of Neuroscience 23: 3483-3490.
Curtis, J.T., K. J. Berkley, and Z.X. Wang. 2003. Neuronal activation associated with mating in the caudal brainstem of voles. Neuroscience Letters 341: 115-118.
Curtis, J.T., and Z.X. Wang. 2003. Forebrain c-fos expression under conditions conducive to pair bonding in female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Physiology and Behavior 80: 95-101.
Curtis, J.T. and Z.X. Wang. 2003. The neurochemistry of pair bonding. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences 12: 49-53.
Aragona B.J., J.T. Curtis, Y. Liu, and Z.X. Wang. 2004. Neural regulation of pair bond formation in a monogamous rodent species. Acta Theriologica Sinica 24: 160-172.
Curtis, J.T. and Z.X. Wang. 2005. Glucocorticoid receptor involvement in pair bonding: the effects of acute blockade and interactions with central dopamine "reward" systems. Neuroscience 134: 369-376.
Stowe J.R., Y. Liu, J.T. Curtis, M.E Freeman, andZ.X. Wang. 2005. Species differences in anxiety-related responses in male prairie and meadow voles: the effects of social isolation. Physiology and Behavior 86: 369-378.
Curtis, J.T. and Z.X. Wang. 2005. Ventral tegmental area involvement in pair bonding in prairie voles. Physiology and Behavior 86: 333-346.
Aragona, B.J., Y. Liu, Y.J. Yu, J.T. Curtis, and Z.X. Wang. 2006. Nucleus accumbens dopamine differentially mediates formation and maintenance of monogamous pair bonds. Nature Neuroscience 9: 133-139.
Smeltzer, M.D., J.T. Curtis, B.J. Aragona, and Z. Wang. 2006. Dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin receptor binding in the medial prefrontal cortex of monogamous and promiscuous voles. Neuroscience Letters 394: 146-151.
Curtis, J.T., Y. Liu, B.J. Aragona, and Z. Wang. 2006. Dopamine and monogamy. Brain Research 1126: 76-90.
Curtis, J.T., Y. Liu, B.J. Aragona, and Z.X. Wang. 2007. Neural regulation of social behavior in rodents. pp 184-195 in J. Wolff and P. Sherman (eds). Rodent Societies: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective. The University of Chicago Press.
Curtis, J.T. 2007. First record of Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) in Florida. Florida Field Naturalist. (in press)
Curtis, J.T. and Z. Wang. 2007. Amphetamine effects in Microtine rodents: a comparative study using monogamous and promiscuous vole species. Neuroscience (in press).
Burns, A.B., J.S. Brown, N. Sachs-Ericsson, E.A. Plant, J.T. Curtis, B.L. Fredrickson, T.E. Joiner. 2008. Upward spirals of positive emotion and coping: replication, extension, and initial exploration of neurochemical substrates. Personality and Individual Differences 44: 360-370.
Curtis, J.T., A.N. Hood, Y. Chen, G.P. Cobb, D.R. Wallace. 2010. Chronic Metals Ingestion By Prairie Voles Produces Sex-Specific Deficits In Social Behavior: An Animal Model Of Autism. Behavioural Brain Research (in press).
Curtis, J.T. 2010. Does fertility trump monogamy? Animal Behaviour (in press).
Curtis, J.T. 2010. Female prairie vole mate-choice is affected by the males’ birth litter composition. Physiology and Behavior (in press)
Recent abstracts and posters:
Davis, R.L., J.T. Curtis, D. Buck, A.N. Hood, D.R. Wallace. 2009. Heavy metal toxicity and chemokine expression in the brain: Importance in autism? Soc. Neurosci. Abst. #436.1
Curtis, J.T., A.N. Hood, D.R. Wallace. 2009. Metals ingestion by prairie voles produces sex-specific deficits in social behavior: an animal model of autism. Soc. Neurosci. Abst. #436.11
Liu Y., K.A. Young, J.T. Curtis, and Z.X. Wang. 2010. Pair bonding experience decreases the appetitive value of amphetamine through a dopamine-mediated mechanism in socially monogamous male prairie voles. Society for Behavioral Neuroscience Abstract.
Assefa, S., J.T. Curtis, S. Sethi, R.L. Davis, Z.Lovato, and R.Kaul.. 2010. Chronic Mercury Chloride Exposure Leads to Increased Expression of TLR-4 and Activation of p38 MAPK and NF-κBInflammatory Proteins in the Liver of Prairie Voles. 21st Annual OSU Research Symposium (Poster)
Curtis, J.T., A.N. Hood, and D.R. Wallace. 2010. Metals Ingestion by Prairie Voles Produces Sex-Specific Deficits in Social Behavior: An Animal Model of Autism. 21st Annual OSU Research Symposium (Poster)
Gray, D., W.J. Reddig, J. Fu, R.W. Allen, J.T. Curtis, and G.A. Köhler. 2010. Molecular Analysis of Intestinal Microbiota in Prairie Voles (Microtus ochrogaster) 21st Annual OSU Research Symposium (Poster)
Curtis, J.T. 1994. Changes in free amino acids in leaf litter during in-stream processing. M.S. Thesis, University of Pittsburgh.
Curtis, J.T. 1999. The angled web of Argiope aurantia. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Documented the first known occurrence of Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) in the state of Missouri. Missouri Bird Records Committee file # 1998-70. 1998.
Documented the first known occurrence of Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) in the state of Florida. Florida Bird Records Committee record # 05-575. 2005.
Florida State University, Fall 2005
University of Idaho, Spring 2006
Arizona State University, Spring 2006
Oklahoma State University – Center for Health Sciences, Fall 2006Oklahoma Society for Physiologists, Summer 2007
Illinois State Museum, Prairie Display
Mount Allison University, Biology Department lecture material image database
Exploring Human Sexuality. Simon LeVay and Sharon Valente (eds)
Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System database
Cover art, Brain Research, Volume 1126
Florida State University, Fall 2005
University of Idaho, Spring 2006
Arizona State University, Spring 2006
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Fall 2006
Oklahoma Society for Physiologists, Summer 2007
University of Oklahoma, Fall 2007
Oklahoma State University Research Day, Spring 2009
2009 AAAS Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division Annual Meeting, Spring 2009
Coordinator, Neuroscience Program Colloquium series, 2003-2006 (FSU).
Neuroscience Program Graduate Recruitment Committee, 2003-2005 (FSU).
Responsible for setting up and maintaining departmental HPLC core facility 2000-2006 (FSU).
Journal Editorial Board: Acta Theriologica Sinica, 2005-2009
Ad hoc reviewer for Journal of Neurobiology, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Hormones & Behavior, Physiology & Behavior, Physiological & Biochemical Zoology, Behavioral Neuroscience, Animal Behaviour,
Society for Neuroscience
Oklahoma Society for Physiologists
5/89-8/91 Electron Microscopist/Environmental Analyst, Detail Associates, Pittsburgh, PA.8/91-8/96 Research Associate, Dept. of Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.
A.S. in Data Processing, Community College of Beaver Co. Monaca, PA, 1984.
Quality Assurance of Chemical Measurements, Professional Analytical Services, Inc., 1990.
Advanced Transmission Electron Microscopy Asbestos Analysis, Georgia Institute of Technology, 1990.