Neural plasticity; Neuroendocrinology
How do ovarian steroid hormones like estrogen and progesterone affect the brain? My lab explores the roles of these hormones in neural plasticity – or the capacity for change in the structure and function of brain circuitry. Our work focuses primarily on the hippocampus, a part of the cerebral cortex that is normally involved in learning and memory and that can be a focus of seizure activity under abnormal conditions. We study how changing levels of estrogen and progesterone alter the way neurons in the hippocampus are physically connected to one another and how these physical changes can modify the flow of electrical activity through the hippocampus.
We use a variety of brain imaging techniques in our work, including light and electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry and autoradiography. We also use electrophysiological recording and behavioral testing to understand the functional consequences of hormone-induced structural changes. Our findings may help to explain how hormones affect both normal cognitive processing as well as susceptibility to seizures.