Given our lifespan approach to the study of sex differences, the work of the laboratory can be described as population-level neuroscience. The research team consists of an interdisciplinary team of investigators, integrating epidemiology, structural and functional magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging (i.e., sMRI, fMRI and DTI), psychophysiology (e.g., heart rate/autonomic nervous system indicators), hormones, genes, and immune activation biomarkers. We collaborate with basic neuroscientists investigating steroid hormones, genes, immune pathways, and the brain.
Functional domains of interest include the stress response circuitry (mood and anxiety), aging of the memory circuitry (including long-term memory and working memory), and reward circuitry implicated in the neural circuitry of obesity, food motivation and energy balance. Current NIH-funded projects investigate these brain circuitries in depression and its comorbidity with cardiometabolic disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar psychoses. Included in this work, Goldstein and colleagues have been following a prenatal cohort over the last 20 years (initiated in 1959-1966 following pregnant mothers and their offspring for 7 years), allowing us to re-recruit offspring as 50-60 year old adults and study in vivo the fetal programming of sex differences in adult onset diseases. The work is contributing to understanding the nature of psychiatric disorders, the impact of one's sex, and normal properties of the male and female brain in the face of disease.
MDD has a high rate of comorbidity with general medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease & metabolic syndrome, which exhibit significant sex differences.
Our lab considers research participants to be one of the most valuable assets to our work. We are fortunate to have three distinct sources from which we recruit our participants, which allow us to conduct studies utilizing various designs and methods.
NEW ENGLAND FAMILY STUDY [NEFS]
The New England Family Study (NEFS) consists of the Boston and Providence sites of the National Collaborative Perinatal Project (NCPP), a national birth cohort which enrolled 66,000 pregnant women at 12 sites between 1959-1966. The offspring were initially followed from birth through age seven. The original NCPP created this large longitudinal study of thousands of mothers and infants to learn more about prenatal and early childhood risk factors for health disorders and to help reduce childhood disease. We have continued to follow the New England Cohort (n = 17,000), a random community sample of pregnancies and highly representative of the general population. The offspring are now middle-aged adults. This fetal to adulthood design allows us to study pre-/peri-natal and childhood factors (including genetic, personal and family health, and environment), and their potential moderating effects. The NEFS also enables us to construct case-control, high-risk, and sibling-set comparative studies using siblings with shared genes and environments but discordant early health factors or varying outcomes in adulthood. The NEFS, an invaluable resource, has been used in our studies of mental health, memory and healthy aging, and cardiometabolic outcomes. (https://sites.google.com/a/brown.edu/nefs/)