The Cameron Lab primarily focuses on the effect of early environment on the reproductive system and sexual behavior in the female. Using an animal model, we look at how early interactions with their mothers affect how adult females reproduce, from sexual behavior to caring for young. These behaviors are mediated by reproductive hormones, which act on the brain to cause changes at the cellular level.
Early environment influences the reproductive development in humans, especially in the timing of puberty and the onset of sexual behavior in girls. In Western societies, low socio-economic status is associated with an increased frequency of family dysfunction and a compromised quality of parent–child interactions, and predicts earlier puberty and sexual activity in females. Thus the quality of the prevailing environment defines parental investment, which in turn is reflected in the mating and parental behaviors of the offspring.
Unfortunately, most of the data on the effect of early environmental influences on
the development and function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis in the
human population remain largely correlational. Animal research is the most powerful,
complimentary approach to fully understanding the mechanisms that program
reproductive function. Using an animal model of natural variations in maternal care Dr. Cameron has been able to study the parental influences on the reproductive system of the female offspring.
We use behavioral testing, cross-fostering and embryo transfer studies to investigate the impact of maternal care on the offspring’s phenotype. Maternal care is quantified by observing the amount of time nursing mothers spend licking and grooming (LG) their pups, a behavior which is normally distributed across populations. High LG mothers are those which score at or above one standard deviation to the mean, while Low LG mothers are those which score at or below one standard deviation below the mean.To study the maternal effect on the offspring neuroendocrine system we use many tools, including behavioral testing, immunohistochemistry, immuno assays, peripheral and central infusions of pharmacologic drugs , embryo transfers and microdialysis.