2015 Hellman Fellow
Assistant Professor, Psychology
UC San Diego
Project Title: Epigenetic Mechanisms of Infant Neglect
Research Statement: The question of how experiences that occur throughout the lifetime produce enduring effects on brain and behavior is a fundamental part of my research program. Motherhood is one significant experience gained in adulthood, which robustly effects on brain and behavior. Broadly, Professor Stolzenberg investigates mechanisms through which infant interactions induce and sustain high levels of maternal responding. Her research suggests that the experience of becoming a mother results in a sustained sensitivity toward infants that is mediated by epigenetic mechanisms in the brain. These epigenetic mechanisms involve modification of chromatin or the complex of DNA compactly coiled around histone proteins. The post-translational modifications of histones by histone acetyltransferase (HAT) enzymes leave “epigenetic marks” that exist above the level of the genome and control gene expression. Alterations in patterns of gene expression within central neural sites underlie the phenotypic plasticity that seems to support long-term changes in maternal behavior.