We are currently examining the effects of puberty blockers (GnRH agonists) on juvenile social development using a rat model. We aim to measure play, social and anxiety behaviors within our model to understand how puberty blockers may affect the social development and mental health of adolescents.
Epigenetic organization of juvenile brain and behavior: Do sex differences in neuroepigenetic mechanisms mediate risk or resilience to the impact of early-life adversity on juvenile mental health disorders?
The study of epigenetics allows for the understanding of how early gene x environmental interactions can shape lasting differences in gene function and behavior. As such, juvenile social disorders may result from atypical epigenetic programming of neuronal tissues during critical periods of development. To investigate the epigenetic programming of juvenile social disorders, our research has focused on how brief environmental perturbations in epigenetic processes within the developing brain can have lasting consequences on juvenile social behavior and health disparities. As some juvenile mental health disorders are diagnosed at different rates between males and females, we are examining how sex differences in epigenetic processes underlie risk and resilience to some mental health disorders.
Although there are physiological and behavioral differences between males and females, perhaps the most profound sex differences are in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Sex differences have been reported in depression, schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Currently, it is unclear how these differences occur. Our research suggests that environmental and hormonal influences during development play an important role in gating risk or resilience to a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders.