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Study Exploring Sex-Based Fear Differences Earns NIH Funding

Human brain activity
A new CVM study looks at why women are twice as likely as men to experience fear-based psychiatric conditions.

A NC State College of Veterinary Medicine research project exploring why women experience more fear-based mental disorders than men is receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health.

The five-year, $1.9 million project is overseen by Elizabeth Lucas, assistant professor of neurobiology in the CVM’s Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences. Lucas initially received a grant for a related project in 2019.

Elizabeth Lucas
Elizabeth Lucas

Her research lab focuses on improving the lives of those with mental illness by studying the underlying cell mechanisms guiding susceptibility to psychiatric illness, as well as differences in brain and behavior between sexes.

“Receiving this award is life-changing, both for my research program and me personally,” says Lucas, who joined the CVM in 2018. “The research has the potential to uncover an entirely novel brain region driving fear-evoked behavior in females, transforming our understanding of how basic brain circuits for fear memory storage and expression differ between sexes.” 

Women are twice as likely as men to experience fear-based psychiatric conditions, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the neurological mechanisms behind the difference are poorly understood.

Lucas’ groundbreaking project will examine the role the lateral septum, a region in the brain, plays in fear. Xinxia Peng, CVM associate professor of infectious disease, is the project’s co-investigator.

“NC State and the CVM in particular provides a very supportive research environment for young investigators,” says Lucas. “I believe that diversity of research at the CVM is a true strength. Experts from totally different backgrounds come together to solve problems beyond the scope of their individual fields.”

Caroline Laplante, a Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences colleague, is in the second year of her five-year, $1.5 million NIH-funded research project.

The assistant professor of quantitative and computational biology is using innovative methods to pinpoint the complex core machinery that governs cell division, a fundamental biological process.

Caroline Laplante, assistant professor in the CVM Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences.
Caroline Laplante

Mary Elting, an assistant professor in NC State’s Department of Physics, is co-investigator on this collaborative interdisciplinary grant.

Both Lucas and Laplante are receiving the funding for their first research submissions to the NIH.

The CVM’s Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences trains students interested in research-based careers centered on improving animal and human health. Department faculty include experts in virology, cancer biology, regenerative medicine and pharmacology.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine