UCI awarded grant to study sex-specific brain pathway responses to stress

August 28, 2023
Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, pictured, led a UC Irvine research team that discovered brain circuitry changes caused by early life adversity that can explain major emotional and mental disorders.

“This research will increase our understanding of the complex
interplay between stress, reward pathways, and how the influence
of early-life adversity on mental health outcomes differs between
males and females,” says Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, lead PI and UCI
Donald Bren Professor and Distinguished Professor in the 
Departments of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Pediatrics, Neurology
and Physiology & Biophysics. Photo by: Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

Irvine, Calif. — UCI has been awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study the sex-specific differences in circuits that connect the brain’s stress and reward centers. 

Building on the earlier discovery of how brain circuit operation is disrupted by exposure to early-life adversity, researchers will study the emergence of gender as a pivotal factor.

“The stress-sensitive pathway we identified earlier this year is crucial in males but seems to have no discernable role in females,” said lead principal investigator Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, a Donald Bren Professor and Distinguished Professor of pediatrics, neurology, anatomy & neurobiology and physiology & biophysics, as well as the Danette “Dee Dee” Shepard Chair in Neurological Studies.

“Early-life stress generates different emotional problems according to sex, with adult ELA male mice exhibiting depression-like behaviors and limited ability to demonstrate pleasure, while the females crave comfort food. We now need to tease out these profound sex differences that already operate early in life.”

Yuncai Chen, a project scientist in pediatrics, and Stephen V. Mahler, associate professor of neurobiology and behavior, are also project principal investigators (PI). This work is supported by NIMH award number MH132680.

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