Welcome To Kanwal Lab!
Our Physiology and Behavior Lab is intersted in the neurodynamics of complex adaptive networks and in the brain's design principles for socioemotional communication and decision making
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About the research

The brain's machinery has evolved over millions of years with the specific goal of enabling animals to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment. To do so, the brain has to solve many information-processing problems in a highly efficient manner. It has to gather, select and process large amounts of sensory information. It must also adapt and motivate organisms to behave within a socioemotionally appropriate context, namely, to feed, to reproduce and care for offspring. Therefore, it must exhibit plasticity at the molecular, cellular and connectional levels and engage in making decisions with important consequences over the short and long term. These decisions are made by integrating incoming sensory information with internal inputs and states via learning, memory and recall, requiring modulation of information via threat detection ("fear") and "reward" circuits. The mechanisms by which these circuits operate is not entirely clear. My group and I are deeply interested in understanding the brain's design principles, especially for processing auditory information, auditory learning, goal-directed behaviors and decision-making. We use a comparative approach to tackle some of these questions.

We are studying audiovocal social communication in bats, auditory learning in zebrafish and mechanisms for coping with distress in humans. We use a variety of techniques, including electrophysiology, immunocytochemistry, neuroanatomy, eye-tracking, imaging, computational modeling and advanced statistical analyses to study the brain and behavior in these organisms. The present focus is on conducting behavioral studies to explore auditory discrimination and memory in zebrafish, which are model organisms, allowing the use of genetic tools to edit the brain and observe its effects on neural circuits and behavior. These studies will allow us to better understand the mechanisms and origins of speech sound perception in humans and it's disruption within a social context, as in the case of autism spectrum disorders. We have recently devised a completely automated behavioral assay for conducting some of the studies.

Dr. Kanwal's Publications

  1. Washington S.D. and Kanwal J.S. (2012) Sex-dependent hemispheric asymmetries for processing frequency modulations in the primary auditory cortex of the mustached bat. J. Neurophysiol (in review).

  2. Clement M.J. and Kanwal J.S., (2012) Simple syllabic calls accompany discrete behavior patterns in captive Pteronotus parnellii: An illustration of the motivation-structure hypothesis. The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2012, Article ID 128695, 16 pages, doi:10.1100/2012/128695

  3. Kanwal J.S. (2012) Right-left asymmetry in the cortical processing of sounds for social communication vs navigation in mustached bats. Eu. J. Neurosci. 35: 257-270; doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07951.

  4. Naumann, R.T. and Kanwal J.S. (2011) The basolateral amygdala responds robustly to social calls: spiking characteristics of single unit activity. J. Neurophysiol. 105:2389-2404.

  5. Wang, J. Kanwal J.S., Zhang, C., Jiang. T. Lu, G. and Feng, J. (2010) Seasonal habitat use by greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum (Chiroptera: Rhinolophidae) in Changbai Mountain temperate forest, Northeast China. Mammalia 74:257–266.

  6. Ma, J., Naumann, R.T. and Kanwal J.S. (2010) Fear conditioned discrimination of frequency modulated sweeps within species-specific calls of mustached bats. PLoS ONE, 5:1-12. e10579.

  7. Kanwal J.S. (2009) Animal Communication: Taxonomic Groups: Audiovocal communication in bats (ms # 1839) NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEUROSCIENCE, ELSEVIER. Vol.1, pp. 681-690.

  8. Washington S.D. and Kanwal J.S. (2008) DSCF neurons within the primary auditory cortex of the mustached bat process frequency modulations present within social calls. J. Neurophysiol. DOI: 10.1152/jn.90442.2008.

  9. Medvedev AV, Kanwal J.S. (2008) Communication call-evoked gamma-band activity in the auditory cortex of awake bats is modified by complex acoustic features. Brain Res. Jan 10;1188:76-86.

  10. Kanwal J.S. and Rauschecker, J.P. (2007) Auditory Cortex of Bats and Primates: Managing species-specific calls for social communication. Front Biosci. 12:4621-4640.

  11. Kanwal J.S. (2006) A distributed cortical representation of social calls. In: J.S. Kanwal and G. Ehret, (eds.) BEHAVIOR AND NEURODYNAMICS FOR AUDITORY COMMUNICATION, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge England, pp. 156-188.


Current and Past Research

  • Zebrafish

    Zebrafish are model organisms, which allow the use of genetic tools to edit the brain and observe its effects on neural circuits and behavior. These studies will allow us to better understand the mechanisms and origins of speech sound perception in humans and it's disruption within a social context, as in the case of autism spectrum disorders

  • bat


    We study acoustics, neurophysiology, behavior and computer models to understand social communication behavior in different species of bats. The present behavioral work is being conducted in conjunction with Professor Feng's lab in Changchun, China

  • rhesus monkey

    Nonhuman Primates

    Our work on rhesus monkeys involved examining the bottom up control of eye movements and auditory responses at the interface of the superior and inferior colliculi in the midbrain. This involved the use of eye tracking, neural recording and microstimulation in awake behaving monkeys

  • human head


    Our work on humans involves understanding how musical and nonverbal sounds are processed and fronto-amygdala pathways that are involved in coping with short term distress. We have also studied representation of music and lateralization of music versus speech sounds. The goal of the ongoing study is to understand differences in the normal population that determine vulnerability to post traumatic stress disorder.

About Dr. Kanwal

Jag Kanwal

Princial Investigator


Education: Ph.D. (1986) Louisiana State University, Physiology and Zoology

Research: Dr. Kanwal’s research at the Neurophysiology and Behavior Lab focuses on the auditory processes involved in the coding/decoding, neural integration and perception of communication sounds. They use a systems level approach and multiple techniques to investigate auditory processing within higher levels of the CNS in auditory specialized animals, such as bats and humans.


Call or email for any questions or inquires

Phone: (202) 687-1305
Fax: (202) 687-0617

eMail: kanwalj@georgetown.edu

Georgetown University
WP09 Research Building
3800 Reservoir Road, N.W.
Washington, DC 20007