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UW-Madison
Department of Psychology

 

     Anthony P. Auger, Ph.D.
       Assistant Professor
       University of Wisconsin-Madison
       Department of Psychology
       1202 West Johnson St.
       Madison, WI. 53706

     


Contact:
      Phone: 608-265-3743    E -mail: apauger@wisc.edu

 
Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Research Lab

     During early brain development, steroid hormone exposure differentiates male from female brain. Although there are numerous physiological and behavioral differences between men and women, perhaps the most profound sex differences are in neurological and psychiatric disorders. For example, women are more likely to exhibit signs of depression, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Men are more likely to exhibit signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity, autism, and dyslexia. As most sex differences in the brain are a result of early steroid hormone exposure, it is possible that sex differences in some disorders are partly influenced by abnormal steroid receptor action in developing brain. Therefore, it is important to understand how steroid receptor activity is regulated in developing brain. To investigate this, we use a rodent model system.

     For decades, it was assumed that steroid receptors within the brain were only activated by steroid hormones; however, recent data indicate that steroid receptors are also activated in the absence of steroid, referred to as ligand-independent activation. Our recent data indicate that acute changes in dopamine transmission during the first few days of life can dramatically alter the developmental organization of social play behavior by activating estrogen receptors in a ligand-independent manner. We believe that these data are not only exciting in that they suggest a potential steroid hormone independent mechanism for sexual differentiation of the brain, but they also investigate the developmental organization of social play behavior. As social play behavior is dramatically disrupted in children with Autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and social play behavior in rodents is used as a rodent model for the study of autism, it is possible that these data will further our understanding of how sexually dimorphic social disorders occur during brain development. Therefore, it is important to understand biological mechanisms governing the development of early social interactions.

     We use a variety of techniques to understand how sex differences are produced within the developing brain, such as immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization, Western Immunoblots, tissue culture, PCR, and behavioral analysis. We also use cutting-edge techniques, such as identification of gene expression using DNA arrays and manipulation of gene expression using antisense technology. In many studies, we use a multi-level approach ranging from examination of gene expression to behavioral analysis.

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