Determining How Estrogen Affects the Brain
Julie K. Staley, Ph.D.,Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Diagnostic Radiology
Understanding the effects of sex and hormones on brain chemistry is becoming increasingly important as evidence emerges of sex differences in behavioral symptoms and treatment response in neuropsychiatric disorders. However, the mechanisms underlying these differences have not been well understood. Through its action at brain estrogen receptors, the female sex steroid estradiol is a primary neurochemical responsible for sex-specific brain development and plays an important role in numerous brain disorders that plague women in particular, including depression. Dr. Staley’s work focused on imaging estrogen receptors in the brain using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to begin to understand the unique neurobiological role of sex hormones as they relate to behavior, cognition and emotion.
Highlighted Study Findings
Dr. Staley’s Ethel F. Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Program-funded pilot research demonstrated that a new radioactive tracer, a chemical compound called MIE2 held promise for use in imaging estrogen receptors in the brain by an imaging technology called single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Her findings have had far-reaching impact. Dr. Staley’s work enhanced the study of SPECT radiotracers in humans, thus allowing advancement of nicotinic receptor imaging which is now being used in the studies of nicotine dependence, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.