EARLY LIFE STRESS ALTERS THE TIMING OF NEURAL AND BEHAVIORAL MATURATION
In recent work by our lab, we have found that early life stress (ELS) is associated with precocious maturation of some brain regions (specifically hippocampus).We are currently undertaking a variety of studies to investigate the impact of ELS on the timing of maturation of other cortical and subcortical brain regions to determine if this effect is the result of an acceleration in wholesale brain development, or instead the selective acceleration of a subset of key brain regions that support the development of reproductive behaviors.
SEX DIFFERENCES IN RISK FOR COGNITIVE AND EMOTIONAL PATHOLOGY
A primary focus of the Bath lab is to develop mouse models that can be leveraged to understand sex differences in the impact of early life stress on risk for pathology development. To do this, we study the normative developmental trajectory of brain and behavior in both male and female mice. Using a model of early life stress, resource restriction, we determine the impact of this stressor on the developmental trajectory of multiple brain centers supporting cognitive and emotional development. Recent work from our lab has identified sex differences in the development of select forms of cognitive and emotional functioning in male and female mice. We are currently working to understand how stress impacts the timing of regional brain development, and to identify the molecular mechanisms by which males and females respond differently to similar environmental stressors.
EVO-DEVO APPROACH TO BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENCE
Work in the Bath lab is centered on understanding brain development, risk for pathology, and sex differences in sensitivity to stress in the context of an evolutionary and developmental (EVO-DEVO) framework. We leverage models of early life stress (ELS) to understand how ELS serves as a signal to alter the timing of regional brain development and the developmental emergence of behavior. We then attempt to understand the effects of stress on developmental timing and behavior in the context of evolutionary pressures to support proximate demands of the organism for reproduction and survival. Based upon preliminary data generated by our lab and others, it appears that ELS supports precocious limbic and reproductive development, potentially at the expense of other systems.