Dr Paula Brunton

The Roslin Institute

Research Interests

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. 

Current projects investigate:

  • Brain mechanisms involved in programming of the neuroendocrine stress system and behaviour following early life stress exposure.
  • Mechanisms involved in transmission of maternal stress effects to the fetus
  • A role for the gut microbiota in stress axis dysfunction and anxiety behaviour in prenatally stressed rats
  • The short and long impact of painful/stressful husbandry practices in early life in pigs (e.g. tail docking, tooth resection) on the brain and behaviour
  • The effects of prenatal stress on subsequent generations
  • Stress exposure during pregnancy and preterm birth risks

Selected Publications

  • Paula Brunton, M.V. Donadio, Song T Yao, Mike Greenwood, Jonathan Seckl, David Murphy, John Russell. 2015. 5α-reduced neurosteroids sex-dependently reverse central prenatal programming of neuroendocrine stress responses in rats. Journal of Neuroscience Vol: 35 Pages: 666-677. More»
  • Paula J Brunton, Katie M Sullivan, David Kerrigan, John Russell, Jonathan R Seckl, Amanda Jane Drake. 2013. Sex-specific effects of prenatal stress on glucose homeostasis and peripheral metabolism in rats. Journal of Endocrinology Vol: 217 Pages: 161-173. More»
  • P. J. Brunton, J. A. Russell. 2010. Prenatal Social Stress in the Rat Programmes Neuroendocrine and Behavioural Responses to Stress in the Adult Offspring: Sex-Specific Effects. Journal of Neuroendocrinology Vol: 22 Pages: 258-271. More»