The role of Coactivators on Development of the Song Nuclei
Early in development, male and female brains diverge in their patterns of growth and differentiation, especially in brain regions involved in the control of behaviors and functions that differ between the sexes.
Over the last 40 years a great deal of experimental evidence has proven that gonadal hormones, such as testosterone secreted from the testes, are critical for the induction of neuronal sex differences. For example, it is testosterone which acts on the brain to induce masculine patterns of development leading to the formation of masculine brain circuits. Yet research over the last decade has suggested that not all sex differences in the brain are the direct result of steroid action, and that other factors need to be invoked to explain sexually dimorphic neural development.
I am interested in examining direct genetic influences on brain sexual differentiation as well as identifying the mechanisms, possibly through coregulatory proteins or molecular chaperones, by which hormones act in the brain to induce sexual differentiation in the Australian Zebra Finch
The role of Stress on Development of the Song Nuclei
I am also interested in studying the effects of early stress on develoment of the Zebra finch song nuclei. Previous studies have shown that stress on juvenile male zebra finches (from either nutritional deprivation or corticosterone treatment) decreases the HVC size and song complexity in adulthood. The underlying mechanisms controlling stressed-induced reduction of the size of song control nuclei are unknown. Thus, we are looking at the role of Corticosterone and glucocorticoid receptors on song nuclei development.
Pre-College and Public Education Interest
As a scientist and an educator, I am interested and in exposing K-12 students to science in general, as well as encouraging them to develop an interest in neuroscience at a young age.
Students can participate in a series of educational outreach programs that provide a hands-on learning experience emphasizing the function and importance of the brain. Through group and individual activities, interactive games, and hands-on exercises, young students will receive instruction in the basic science of the brain. The programs can address such topics as "What does the brain do? How do we remember things? What is the brain made of? Are there sex differences in brains? What happens as your brain grows? What is good for your brain--What is bad for your brain?" plus many more.
In addition, summer workshops for K-12 teachers have been developed to provide educators with the tools and information they need to bring neuroscience into their classrooms. Community outreach will focus on activities that allow for family fun and learning at various venues throughout Atlanta.