Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
Background: Originally from Michigan, I graduated from Boston University in 2006 with a bachelors degree in Biology, specializing in Neuroscience. While in Boston, I worked with Dr. Caroly Shumway at the New England Aquarium studying differences in navigational abilities between two species of cichlid fish and how they relate to differences in habitat complexity and telencephalon volume.
Upon graduation, I joined the Neuroscience PhD Program at Michigan State University, where I worked with Dr. Cheryl Sisk. My dissertation focused on the maturation of social rewards during puberty. To do this, we used male Syrian hamsters as an animal model because their interpretations of a social stimulus, female pheromone, shift during puberty. Specifically, I demonstrated that these cues are inherently rewarding only after pubertal development and that this rewarding interpretation of female pheromones can be facilitated by testosterone and is dopamine-dependent. Moreover, using immunohistochemistry, I showed that mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic responses to these pheromones are gained over adolescence, and cannot be facilitated by testosterone. Together, these results suggest that mesocorticolimbic adolescent maturation may be essential for performance of adult-typical sociosexual behaviors, and that dopaminergic actions outside this system (likely in the medial preoptic area) are essential for testosterone-sensitive modulation of pheromone reward.
In addition to research, I taught Zoology 402 Neurobiology with Dr. Lynwood Clemens, where we used and tested efficacy of team-based problem-set learning in the classroom. I also enjoy neuroscience educational outreach in the local community and running/ biking/ hiking/ camping with my husband.
Current Research: I joined the Gore Lab at the University of Texas at Austin as a Postdoctoral Fellow in June 2012. Given the known susceptibility of the perinatal brain to the effects of endocrine disruptors, and the normal organizational effects of hormones on the brain during puberty, I am determining the relative contributions and interactions of PCB exposure during these important developmental periods. As social and anxiety behaviors change dramatically during adolescence, often in a sexually-dimorphic and hormone sensitive way, I am also studying the effects of PCB exposure on play and sociosexual ultrasonic vocalizations, sociability, and anxiety-like behavior. Additionally, I am investigating associated gene expression changes in hypothalamic, amygdalar, and corticolimbic brain regions. Continued work will seek to determine the molecular mechanisms for such changes, including DNA methylation and miRNA.
For lists of honors and awards, publications, and posters, please see c.v. (pdf)