Mental health disorders are among the most common debilitating conditions worldwide. Currently, 322 million people worldwide are suffering from depression, a mental disorder that has been shown to be tightly connected to stress. There is still a lot unknown about how depression develops and affects our brain and how stress interacts with depression and other risk factors. I am particularly interested in one specific aspect of this condition: why are two third of these patients women and how does stress affect a person based on their sex?
To try answering these questions, our lab uses mouse models of acute and chronic stress to explore behavioral changes and molecular alterations due to stress in the brain. Moreover, we combine advanced automatic behavioral tracking and single cell transcriptomics to achieve high resolution. My PhD project tries to describe how the stress response in the brain changes according to sex and previous stress experiences and social environment. To do so, we directly compare male and female mice and we study the cell-type-specific transcriptome of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus - the coordinator of the stress response - and the behavioural response to stress in socially housed mice.
Our contribution to the new movement of introducing sex as a biological variable in psychiatric and stress research will increase our understanding of the sex-dependent clinical manifestation of depression and will provide significant insights for the development of more effective therapeutic sex-oriented tools for its treatment.