Julie G. Hensler
Professor of Pharmacology
Ph.D., Northwestern University
molecular and cellular neuroscience
stress vulnerability vs. resilience
brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
The research in my laboratory is dedicated to understanding the neural basis of stress-precipitated psychiatric disorders such as major depression. To examine the impact of stress on brain function and behavior, we have focused our efforts on serotonergic systems in the brain. Serotonin plays a neuromodulatory role in the brain, and has been implicated in a variety of physiological responses and behaviors. Changes or abnormalities in serotonergic systems have been implicated in stress-precipitated psychiatric disorders.
Neurotrophins, such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are essential to the function and survival of neurons in the adult brain. BDNF has profound effects on the functional architecture of neurons and has a fundamental role in promoting serotonergic neurotransmission. As chronic stress decreases BDNF in frontal cortex and hippocampus, stress-related psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, may be due to diminished function or atrophy of neurons in these brain regions.
To unravel the molecular, cellular and circuit processes that underlie how stress impacts the brain and behavior, we employ a multidisciplinary approach including the use of transgenic mice, gene deletion 'knockout' mutants, biochemistry, pharmacology, neuroanatomical and behavioral analyses. In vivo studies are complemented by in vitro approaches (i.e. cells in culture), which allow us to ask more mechanistic questions. The guiding rationale behind this work is the finding that mice deficient in BDNF are sensitive to mild stress and exhibit neurochemical and behavioral hallmarks of major depression.
The second broad theme of our research examines the mechanisms underlying the sensitivity to stress of female rat offspring of dams fed a diet low in protein. This isocaloric maternal diet fed dams during gestation models western diets that are high in carbohydrates and low in protein. By building on the findings from our basic research, we hope to better understand the neurobiological mechanisms that confer resilience or vulnerability to stress.
Appointments, Boards, Committees and Memberships
Leadership Texas - Class of 2012 - Leadership Texas
President - International Society for Serotonin Research - http://www.serotoninclub.org - 2010-2012