The Roslin Institute
Research in my group focuses on investigating the impact of stress exposure during development on the brain and behaviour and understanding the mechanisms involved.
It is widely accepted that an individual is shaped by a combination of nature and nurture. The implication is that the way in which an individual responds to stress is not solely a consequence of their genetic make-up; rather, it is defined by how their genes interact with their pre- and post-natal environment. The perinatal period (the time before and after birth) is a time of marked neural plasticity; hence, the development of brain systems, is susceptible to re-modelling. Adverse experiences in early life (such as stress exposure) can permanently ‘programme’ physiological systems and behaviours in later life. Often this programming of the brain is maladaptive, increasing the susceptibility of the offspring to various diseases (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, cognitive decline and mood disorders). Maternal stress has permanent and often profound effects on the offspring. Our research has demonstrated the maternal exposure to social stress during pregnancy is linked with low birth weight, anxious behaviour, hyperactive stress axis activity, insulin resistance, cognitive deficits and abnormal social and behaviours. We investigate the mechanisms in the brain that underpin these changes and whether the impact of stress exposure during development can be prevented or reversed.