Phone: (608) 265-3743
Office: 530 Psychology Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Lab
Anthony P. Auger
Ph.D. 1998, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
During early brain development, steroid hormone exposure differentiates male from female brain. Although there are some physiological and behavioral differences between men and women, perhaps some of the most profound sex differences are in neurological and psychiatric disorders. For example, women are more likely to exhibit signs of depression, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, boys are more likely to exhibit signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity, autism, and dyslexia. As most sex differences in the brain are produced by differences in early steroid hormone exposure, it is possible that sex differences in some disorders are partly influenced by abnormal steroid receptor action during brain development.
Our research is directed at how steroid receptors and the social environment interact to influence brain development and subsequently behavior in a normal or abnormal manner. Using a rodent model system, we have found that estrogen receptors within the developing brain can be activated by neurotransmitters in the absence of steroid hormone. Our recent data indicate that acute changes in dopamine transmission during the first few days of life can dramatically alter the developmental organization of juvenile social play behavior by indirectly activating estrogen receptors. Therefore, estrogen receptors in the developing brain are signaling factors that can be activated by steroidal and by non-steroidal factors. As dopamine release is sensitive to social and environmental cues, estrogen receptors may be involved in relaying environmental/maternal care changes to critical areas of developing brain. To summarize, we study how gene expression controls brain development and behavior, and how behavior or the social environment controls gene expression with an emphasis on the development of gender differences. To understand how sex differences are produced within the developing brain, we use a variety of techniques, such as immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization, Western Immunoblots, tissue culture, Real-time PCR, and behavioral analysis. We also use cutting-edge techniques, such as identification of gene expression using DNA arrays and manipulation of gene expression using antisense technology. In many studies, we use a multi-level approach ranging from examination of gene expression to behavioral analysis.
Olesen KM, Jessen HM, Auger CJ, Auger AP. (2005). Dopaminergic activation of estrogen receptors in neonatal brain alters progestin receptor expression and juvenile social play behavior. Endocrinology. 46(9):3705-12.
Auger AP. (2004). Steroid receptor control of reproductive behavior. Hormones and Behavior. 45(3):168-72.
Auger AP, Perrot-Sinal TS, McCarthy MM. (2001). Excitatory versus inhibitory GABA as a divergence point in steroid-mediated sexual differentiation of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 98(14):8059-64.
Auger AP, Tetel MJ, McCarthy MM. (2000). Steroid receptor coactivator-1 (SRC-1) mediates the development of sex-specific brain morphology and behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 97(13):7551-5.