Our research focuses on the neural connections between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the amygdala, and sex differences in how this circuit processes fear and responds to stress. The mPFC and amygdala are frequently reported to be sites of dysfunction in stress-related mental illnesses like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the symptoms of which may be a result of abnormal cross-talk between the two regions. Since women are twice as likely as men to develop these disorders, relevant research in female animals is particularly important.
In the lab, we combine classic neuroanatomy techniques with state-of-the-art confocal microscopy to reconstruct neurons in 3D. By correlating structural information with behavioral measures, we can identify potential markers of vulnerability and resilience. In addition, we use behavioral pharmacology and immunofluorescence to probe interactions between ovarian hormones and neurotransmitter systems. Specifically, we are interested in estrogen’s ability to modulate dopamine actions in the mPFC, and how this can affect memory for a traumatic event.