The primary objective of our research is to identify how experiential factors and neuroendocrine changes in motherhood alter behavior and brain plasticity immediately postpartum and across the lifespan. We apply a variety of approaches using rodent models to reveal possible biological mechanisms of postpartum depression and other peripartum mental illnesses.
We have two complementary lines of research focused on maternal adaptations: to delineate the independent contributions of postpartum experiences (lactation and presence of offspring) to stress-related behaviors, neuroendocrine responses to stress, and neural plasticity relevant for depression. The second line is aimed at the roles of oxytocin and prolactin in stress-related behavioral, endocrine, and neural changes in postpartum and reproductively naïve female rats.
We have a secondary line of research focused on the enduring effects of developmental adversity (with a focus on the postnatal and adolescent periods) on brain development and behavior throughout the lifespan, in both males and females. Adverse circumstances that occur during critical periods in development have long lasting physiological and psychological consequences. Moreover, female subjects are historically understudied in biomedical research, which has profoundly limited our understanding of unique, sex-specific effects of early-life adversity. Psychiatric treatments for mental illnesses are. in part, based on preponderance of preclinical evidence from male subjects, but the efficacy of these treatments can vary depending on sex, age, and the reproductive history of the individuals affected.
Thus, our research serves to bridge these gaps and will ultimately improve the health and wellness of infants, children, and women across their lifespans.