Current Projects

Determine how developmental exposure to fire retardants impacts sexually dimorphic neurodevelopment and behavior.

New fire retardants are rapidly entering the market to replace older chemicals with known neurotoxicity. Little to nothing is known about the potential health effects of these newer compounds, particularly to children. Through collaborative efforts with our colleagues at Duke and NIEHS/NTP we are working to characterize if and how newer fire retardants including TBBPA and the commercial mixture Firemaster 550 influence brain development and behavior in rats. We have found and reported evidence of effects on anxiety and exploratory behaviors, disruption of the thyroid hormone axis, and heightened risk of obesity. Ongoing studies in prairie voles are revealing profound effects on social behavior, and seeking to understand the mechanisms by which developmental exposure contributes to adverse behavioral effects, including endocrine disruption at the level of the placenta.

Establish if epigenetic marks in peripheral tissues reflect epigenetic and phenotypic effects in brain.

Epigenetic reprogramming may be a way in which exogenous chemicals alter the developing brain. This project, led by our NCSU colleague Dr. David Aylor and other members of the NIEHS Target II Consortium is undertaking a series of studies aimed at understanding how well epigenetic “marks” in readily accessible tissues like blood and skin cells reflect “marks” in target tissues of interest which are not as readily accessible such as brain.

Assess how developmental exposure to BPA (Bisphenol A) alters sexually dimorphic neuroendocrine development and behavior.

Exposure to BPA, soy phytoestrogens, and other endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) may have permanent and persistent effects on adult physiology and behavior. We are working on this aspect of the “developmental origins of adult disease” using a variety of animal models including rats, mice and prairie voles. Behaviors of interest include anxiety and mood-related behaviors, social interaction and sexual behavior. We are also focusing on neural systems and pathways that are estrogen responsive including the oxytocin/vasopressin system. Part of this work was conducted as part of the CLARITY-BPA program which was a consortium based, multi-investigator approach to assessing the health effects of BPA, and led by NIEHS in collaboration with the NTP, NCTR and the FDA.