Nearly one in twenty women worldwide experience premenstrual symptoms severe enough to be classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), however, PMDD's neurobiology is understudied. As women with PMDD cannot be distinguished from healthy controls by peripheral markers of ovarian function, it is critical that research is focused on the interaction between neuroactive steroids and the neurotransmitter systems they modulate. Progesterone's metabolite allopregnanolone (ALLO) is a powerful gamma- aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptor agonist that, we and others propose, precipitates PMDD symptoms via interaction with brain regions such as the sexually dimorphic bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). The proposed research aims to examine how the fluctuating hormonal milieu of the menstrual cycle (MC) sets the stage for differences in stress and arousal reactivity between women with PMDD and healthy controls. Outcomes of interest include psychophysiologic (acoustic startle reflex; ASR) and HPA axis response to a laboratory stressor during the follicular and luteal phases of the MC and again after luteal phase administration of sertraline 50 mg/d. Exploration of the relationship between these primary outcomes and changes in ALLO across the MC and with SSRI treatment (PMDD group only) provides a novel approach to examining mechanism of action of SSRIs in the treatment of PMDD. The Neutral, Predictable, Unpredictable (NPU) threat of shock acoustic startle protocol is used herein to differentiate between anxiety-potentiated ASR (modulated by the BNST) versus fear-potentiated ASR (modulated by the amygdala), an important distinction when considering the development of new interventions for PMDD. We hypothesize that women with PMDD will have heightened baseline and anxiety-potentiated ASR, but not fear-potentiated ASR in the luteal phase compared to the follicular phase, and compared to female controls during the luteal phase. These findings would be consistent with preclinical studies showing that ALLO, which is co-released under conditions of stress and enhanced by SSRI administration, diminishes the impact of stress hormones on contextual fear or anxiety- potentiated (BNST related) ASR. We expect no between group differences or pre-post sertraline effects on fear-potentiated ASR (amygdala related). This research will further our understanding of the nature of PMDD and provide additional insights into the therapeutic action of SSRIs with the goal of fostering development of new interventions for the treatment of PMDD. This grant mechanism comes at a critical time in the candidate's career development as she integrates her background in stress biology with investigation of neurosteroids and psychophysiology, building toward a larger research program on the neuroendocrinology of PMDD and stress responsivity. The proposed research includes expert mentorship from Dr. Neill Epperson and input from an esteemed panel of co-mentors/advisors, and will advance the candidate's career towards independence in women's reproductive behavioral health.

Public Health Relevance

Nearly one in twenty women worldwide experience premenstrual symptoms severe enough to be classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD); while recently recognized in the DSM-5 as a disorder, research on PMDD's biological underpinnings has lagged behind that of other brain disorders. This research proposes that the hallmark symptoms of PMDD - mood lability, depression, anxiety and irritability - reflect suboptimal sensitivity to the progesterone metabolite and GABAA receptor agonist allopregnanolone (ALLO), particularly in ALLO-sensitive brain regions such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). We utilize a laboratory stressor to assess impact of cued and contextual threat on arousal regulation in women with and without PMDD. Preclinical research and our previous work suggests that GABA-ALLO dysregulation, particularly at the level of the BNST, contributes to the pathophysiology (cause) of PMDD. Better understanding of PMDD's pathophysiology would help to shed light on potential treatments, de-stigmatize this disorder, and support women who may be suffering.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23)
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Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health Study Section (MESH)
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Chavez, Mark
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University of Pennsylvania
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Hantsoo, Liisa; Golden, Carla E M; Kornfield, Sara et al. (2018) Startling Differences: Using the Acoustic Startle Response to Study Sex Differences and Neurosteroids in Affective Disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20:40
Hantsoo, Liisa; Criniti, Stephanie; Khan, Annum et al. (2018) A Mobile Application for Monitoring and Management of Depressed Mood in a Vulnerable Pregnant Population. Psychiatr Serv 69:104-107
Hantsoo, Liisa; Podcasy, Jessica; Sammel, Mary et al. (2017) Pregnancy and the Acceptability of Computer-Based Versus Traditional Mental Health Treatments. J Womens Health (Larchmt) 26:1106-1113
Hantsoo, Liisa; Epperson, C Neill (2017) Anxiety Disorders Among Women: A Female Lifespan Approach. Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ) 15:162-172
Epperson, C Neill; Hantsoo, Liisa V (2017) Making Strides to Simplify Diagnosis of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Am J Psychiatry 174:6-7
Morrison, Kathleen E; Epperson, C Neill; Sammel, Mary D et al. (2017) Preadolescent Adversity Programs a Disrupted Maternal Stress Reactivity in Humans and Mice. Biol Psychiatry 81:693-701
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