top of page


Please find below a list of our recent featured papers. You can click to access our PubMed or Google Scholar pages to find a complete list of journal article publications.

High estradiol reduces adult neurogenesis but strengthens functional connectivity within the hippocampus during spatial pattern separation in adult female rats

Adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus plays an important role for pattern separation, the process of separating similar inputs and forming distinct neural representations. Estradiol modulates neurogenesis and hippocampus function, but to date no examination of estradiol's effects on pattern separation have been conducted. Here, we examined estrogenic regulation of adult neurogenesis and functional connectivity in the hippocampus after the spatial pattern separation task in female rats. Ovariectomized Sprague-Dawley rats received daily injections of vehicle, 0.32 μg (Low) or 5 μg (High) of estradiol benzoate until the end of experiment. A single bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) was injected one day after initiation of hormone or vehicle treatment and rats were tested in the delayed nonmatching to position spatial pattern separation task in the 8-arm radial maze for 12 days beginning two weeks after BrdU injection. Rats were perfused 90 min after the final trial and brain sections were immunohistochemically stained for BrdU/neuronal nuclei (NeuN) (new neurons), Ki67 (cell proliferation), and the immediate early gene, zif268 (activation). Results showed that high, but not low, estradiol reduced the density of BrdU/NeuN-ir cells and had significant inter-regional correlations of zif268-ir cell density in the hippocampus following pattern separation. Estradiol treatment did not influence pattern separation performance or strategy use. These results show that higher doses of estradiol can reduce neurogenesis but at the same time increases correlations of activity of neurons within the hippocampus during spatial pattern separation. Keywords: Cell proliferation; Cell survival; Cognition; Dentate gyrus; Granule neuron; Immediate early gene; Strategy use; zif268.

Ending the neglect of women’s health in research

The health inequities facing women and gender diverse people are well known. Sex differences exist in both prevalence and manifestation of numerous disorders, making it challenging to diagnose and treat these disorders without recognising sex based disparities. For example, female patients are more likely than male patients to experience adverse effects from new drugs. In recognition of such differences, as far back as 1993 the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated that women (and ethnically diverse people) should be included in all NIH funded clinical trials. Canadian and European funding agencies also implemented mandates for sex and gender diversity in health research. Despite these efforts, sex and gender related inequalities remain in both research and practice. Leading contributors are the low levels of funding for diseases that disproportionately affect women, lack of attention to sex or gender in analyses despite mandates from funding agencies, and lack of research focused on improving the health

Are we moving the dial? Canadian health research funding trends for women's health, 2S/LGBTQ + health, sex, or gender considerations

Background: Sex and gender impacts health outcomes and disease risk throughout life. The health of women and members of the Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (2S/LGBTQ +) community is often compromised as they experience delays in diagnosis. Distinct knowledge gaps in the health of these populations have prompted funding agencies to mandate incorporation of sex and gender into research. Sex- and gender-informed research perspectives and methodology increases rigor, promotes discovery, and expands the relevance of health research. Thus, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) implemented a sex and gender-based analysis (SGBA) framework recommending the inclusion of SGBA in project proposals in 2010 and then mandating the incorporation of SGBA into grant proposals in 2019. To examine whether this mandate resulted in increased mention of sex or gender in funded research abstracts, we searched the publicly available database of grant abstracts funded by CIHR to analyze the percentage of abstracts that mentioned sex or gender of the population to be studied in the funded research. To better understand broader health equity issues we also examined whether the funded grant abstracts mentioned either female-specific health research or research within the 2S/LGBTQ + community. Results: We categorized a total of 8,964 Project and Operating grant abstracts awarded from 2009 to 2020 based on their study of female-specific or a 2S/LGBTQ + populations or their mention of sex or gender. Overall, under 3% of grant abstracts funded by CIHR explicitly mentioned sex and/or gender, as 1.94% of grant abstracts mentioned sex, and 0.66% mentioned gender. As one of the goals of SGBA is to inform on health equity and understudied populations with respect to SGBA, we also found that 5.92% of grant abstracts mentioned female-specific outcomes, and 0.35% of grant abstracts focused on the 2S/LGBTQ + community. Conclusions: Although there was an increased number of funded grants with abstracts that mentioned sex and 2S/LGBTQ + health across time, these increases were less than 2% between 2009 and 2020. The percentage of funded grants with abstracts mentioning female-specific health or gender differences did not change significantly over time. The percentage of funding dollars allocated to grants in which the abstracts mentioned sex or gender also did not change substantially from 2009 to 2020, with grant abstracts mentioning sex or female-specific research increasing by 1.26% and 3.47%, respectively, funding allocated to research mentioning gender decreasing by 0.49% and no change for 2S/LGBTQ +-specific health. Our findings suggest more work needs to be done to ensure the public can evaluate what populations will be examined with the funded research with respect to sex and gender to advance awareness and health equity in research. Keywords: 2S/LGBTQ + health; CIHR; Canada; Female; Gender; Research funding; Sex; Women’s health.

Beyond sex differences: short- and long-term effects of pregnancy on the brain

Growing attention has been directed to the inclusion of females in neuroscience studies, and to the importance of studying sex as a biological variable. However, how female-specific factors such as menopause and pregnancy, affect the brain remains understudied. In this review, we use pregnancy as a case in point of a female-unique experience that can alter neuroplasticity, neuroinflammation, and cognition. We examine studies in both humans and rodents indicating that pregnancy can modify neural function in the short term, as well as alter the trajectory of brain aging. Furthermore, we discuss the influence of maternal age, fetal sex, number of pregnancies, and presence of pregnancy complications on brain health outcomes. We conclude by encouraging the scientific community to prioritize researching female health by recognizing and including factors such as pregnancy history in research.

Sex and BDNF Val66Met polymorphism matter for exercise-induced increase in neurogenesis and cognition in middle-aged mice

Females show greater benefits of exercise on cognition in both humans and rodents, which may be related to brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), the Val66Met polymorphism, within the human BDNF gene, causes impaired activity-dependent secretion of neuronal BDNF and impairments to some forms of memory. We evaluated whether sex and BDNF genotype (Val66Met polymorphism (Met/Met) versus wild-type (Val/Val)) influenced the ability of voluntary running to enhance cognition and hippocampal neurogenesis in mice. Middle-aged C57BL/6J (13 months) mice were randomly assigned to either a control or an aerobic training (AT) group (running disk access). Mice were trained on the visual discrimination and reversal paradigm in a touchscreen-based technology to evaluate cognitive flexibility. BDNF Met/Met mice had fewer correct responses compared to BDNF Val/Val mice on both cognitive tasks. Female BDNF Val/Val mice showed greater cognitive flexibility compared to male mice regardless of AT. Despite running less than BDNF Val/Val mice, AT improved performance in both cognitive tasks in BDNF Met/Met mice. AT increased neurogenesis in the ventral hippocampus of BDNF Val/Val mice of both sexes and increased the proportion of mature type 3 doublecortin-expressing cells in the dorsal hippocampus of female mice only. Our results indicate AT improved cognitive performance in BDNF Met/Met mice and increased hippocampal neurogenesis in BDNF Val/Val mice in middle age. Furthermore, middle-aged female mice may benefit more from AT than males in terms of neuroplasticity, an effect that was influenced by the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism. Keywords: Cognitive flexibility; Female; Prefrontal cortex; Voluntary running; hippocampus.

bottom of page