Tallie Z. Baram
“This research will increase our understanding of the complex interplay between stress, reward pathways, and how the influence of early-life adversity on mental health outcomes differs between males and females,” says Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, lead principal investigator and UCI Donald Bren Professor and Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Pediatrics, Neurology and Physiology & Biophysics. Steve Zylius / UCI

UCI has been awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the sex-specific differences in circuits that connect the brain’s stress and reward centers. Building on the earlier discovery of how brain circuit operation is disrupted by exposure to early-life adversity, researchers will study the emergence of gender as a pivotal factor. “The stress-sensitive pathway we identified earlier this year is crucial in males but seems to have no discernable role in females,” said lead principal investigator Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, a Donald Bren Professor and Distinguished Professor of pediatrics, neurology, anatomy & neurobiology and physiology & biophysics, as well as the Danette “Dee Dee” Shepard Chair in Neurological Studies. “Early-life stress generates different emotional problems according to sex, with adult ELA male mice exhibiting depression-like behaviors and limited ability to demonstrate pleasure, while the females crave comfort food. We now need to tease out these profound sex differences that already operate early in life.” Yuncai Chen, a project scientist in pediatrics, and Stephen V. Mahler, associate professor of neurobiology and behavior, are also project PIs. This work is supported by NIMH award number MH132680.