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Fear Factor: Study to Explore What Drives Differences Between Men and Women

Man and woman faces profiles with brains, concept of difference
A study from the CVM's Elizabeth Lucas will explore the science behind why women are twice as likely than men to experience fear-based mental disorders.

The NC State College of Veterinary Medicine’s Elizabeth Lucas has received a young scientist grant for a pioneering study on the science behind why women experience far more fear-based psychiatric conditions than men.

Lucas, an assistant professor of neurology in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, is one of 200 international researchers receiving a 2019 Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Grant. The organization awarded $13.8 million to this year’s recipients and received 943 young investigator applications.

The grant program recognizes promising young scientists focusing on psychiatric and neurobiological research.

Elizabeth Lucas, CVM assistant professor of neurobiology.

Lucas’ project will use animal models to pinpoint cellular and brain circuit mechanisms behind greater fear memory storage and expression in women. Lucas noted that women are twice as likely as men to experience fear-based conditions. Greater symptom severity leads to poorer quality of women with such psychiatric illnesses. Fear-based illnesses include a wide range of anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Uncovering why women encode and express fear memories differently than men can lead to more refined treatments for psychiatric diseases. Lucas will look into the role the lateral septum region of the brain has in fear memory differences between men and women.

“BBRF Young Investigators represent a new generation of researchers who will pioneer breakthroughs in mental health research,” said Jeffrey Borenstein, BBRF president and CEO, in a statement.

Young scientists such as Lucas, “will apply powerful new technologies and insights to understanding, treating and curing mental illness,” Borenstein said.

Lucas, who has a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience, joined the CVM in 2018. Her research lab focuses on improving the lives of those with mental illness by exploring the cellular mechanisms underlying devastating psychiatric conditions and what drives sex differences in brain and behavior.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine