The long term goal of this research program is to identify the genes and signaling pathways that control sexual differentiation of social behavior. Sex differences in neurological diseases, normal and abnormal behaviors are well documented, but the mechanisms underlying the differences are not. Many behavioral disorders (i.e. schizophrenia, depression, autism etc.) have one universal symptom;atypical social interactions. Our goal is to understand development of normal social behavior and use this information to reveal novel genetic mutations in patients with behavioral disorders. In the past few years we have established that the androgen receptor (AR) is a major component in the sexual differentiation of social affiliative behaviors in the mouse. This is exciting because the AR has been implicated in sexual differentiation of primates, including humans. We will advance this finding by studying the genetic regulation of sexual differentiation downstream of AR, and we will discover the essential AR target genes.
In Aims 1 -3 we will validate one potential AR target gene, Calbindin D28k. Calbindin defines a sexually dimorphic cell cluster in the medial preoptic area. In addition, this calcium binding protein has well characterized anti-apoptotic actions in brain, and for these reasons it is very likely a contributor to the sexual differentiation pathway. We will use a number of genetically engineered mice, molecular, genetic and behavioral methods to characterize the relationship between the AR and Calbindin at the level of mRNA and protein. We will also use Calbindin knockout mice to assess the behavioral ramification of the loss of function of this gene. Finally we will conduct Microarray experiments to uncover novel candidate genes that are androgen responsive. The strategy we will pursue delineates the role AR plays in regulation of a gene that is part of a neuroprotection pathway and is likely involved in sexual differentiation. This same strategy can be recycled to identify other AR target genes.

Public Health Relevance

Understanding the genes and signaling pathways that control sexual differentiation of behavior is essential for eventual treatment of sex-biased mental illnesses, which include abnormal social behavior as a major symptom. Further, sexual differentiation is an exemplar of neural development, and understanding the molecular mechanisms directing these processes informs us about neural development, neuroprotection and repair generally.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, and Behavior Study Section (NNB)
Program Officer
Panchision, David M
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Virginia
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Quinnies, Kayla M; Cox, Kimberly H; Rissman, Emilie F (2015) Immune deficiency influences juvenile social behavior and maternal behavior. Behav Neurosci 129:331-8
Cox, Kimberly H; Quinnies, Kayla M; Eschendroeder, Alex et al. (2015) Number of X-chromosome genes influences social behavior and vasopressin gene expression in mice. Psychoneuroendocrinology 51:271-81
Cox, Kimberly H; Bonthuis, Paul J; Rissman, Emilie F (2014) Mouse model systems to study sex chromosome genes and behavior: relevance to humans. Front Neuroendocrinol 35:405-19
Stolzenberg, Danielle S; Stevens, Jacqueline S; Rissman, Emilie F (2014) Histone deacetylase inhibition induces long-lasting changes in maternal behavior and gene expression in female mice. Endocrinology 155:3674-83
Cox, Kimberly H; So, Nina L T; Rissman, Emilie F (2013) Foster dams rear fighters: strain-specific effects of within-strain fostering on aggressive behavior in male mice. PLoS One 8:e75037
Bharadwaj, Pranay; McInnis, Christine; Madden, Amanda M K et al. (2013) Increased dendritic spine density and tau expression are associated with individual differences in steroidal regulation of male sexual behavior. PLoS One 8:e69672
Wolstenholme, J T; Rissman, E F; Bekiranov, S (2013) Sexual differentiation in the developing mouse brain: contributions of sex chromosome genes. Genes Brain Behav 12:166-80
Wolstenholme, Jennifer T; Goldsby, Jessica A; Rissman, Emilie F (2013) Transgenerational effects of prenatal bisphenol A on social recognition. Horm Behav 64:833-9
Abel, Jean LeBeau; Rissman, Emilie F (2013) Running-induced epigenetic and gene expression changes in the adolescent brain. Int J Dev Neurosci 31:382-90
Bonthuis, Paul J; Rissman, Emilie F (2013) Neural growth hormone implicated in body weight sex differences. Endocrinology 154:3826-35

Showing the most recent 10 out of 68 publications