Annaliese Beery, PhD
Influence of experience on molecular physiology: cross-tissue comparisons of the effects of stress on telomere length and gene regulation
I am broadly interested in how experience and the environment alter the biology, behavior, and health of individuals. As a Health and Society Scholar, I am studying mechanisms by which short term experiences can have long-term effects on health and physiology. In my current projects I am striving to use rodent models to answer questions that will add to our understanding of parallel human studies but which cannot be practically assessed in human subjects.
In collaboration with faculty at UCSF and UC Berkeley I am conducting two pilot projects on the effects of stress on molecular physiology. In one project I am examining the effects of stress on the length of telomeres--repetitive sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with cell division. Prior research at UCSF has shown that life stress is associated with shorter telomeres and changes in the abundance of telomere lengthening enzymes. Telomere length is typically measured in white blood cells, which likely respond to stress with a different pattern of cell division than other tissues in the body. I am attempting to create a rodent model of this process which will allow us to examine how telomere length varies across different tissue types that may respond differently to stress so that we can better interpret results of human studies.
In my second project I am studying the effects of early life experience on epigenetic regulation of genes involved in stress responsiveness. High levels of maternal care have been shown to alter long-term gene regulation in the brains of offspring in a rodent model; I am exploring patterns of co-regulation between different tissue types that may be more easily sampled in human studies.
The 7th publication from my graduate work "Same-sex social behavior in meadow voles: multiple and rapid formation of attachments" was recently published in the June 2009 issue of Physiology and Behavior, accompanied by a cover photo of the voles I worked with for their particular social behaviors. In July I will co-chair a symposium on oxytocin and social behavior at the 40th International Symposium on Psychoneuroendocrinology, and in August I have been invited to present at an NSF workshop on social behavior in Chile.
I look forward to another year in the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars program, and plan to pursue topics related to my current work at Smith College in the departments of Psychology and Neuroscience beginning in Fall 2010.