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A 2001 report by the National Institute of Medicine and the "Agenda for Research on Women's Health for the 21st Century" published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women's Health Research (ORWH) emphasized the urgent need to develop translational research on understanding sex differences in the brain and their impact on clinical medicine. Although research is beginning to discover that many health issues are influenced by one's gender, it is yet unclear how these differences affect the development of disease at the cellular and molecular levels and its relationship with clinical manifestations. Furthermore, clinical decisions based on research are primarily based on data from males that are often inappropriate for females. Our SCOR will fulfill an important health care need by conducting a series of basic science and translational studies investigating fetal genetic and hormonal risk factors for understanding sex differences in brain structure and function that may lead to depression.

Depression is the fourth leading cause of disease burden worldwide, and the incidence of depression in women is twice that of men. Further, depression has a high rate of co-morbidity with numerous chronic disorders, such as cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome, dementias, and other psychiatric disorders, all of which exhibit significant sex differences. This suggests that there is a high cost to the medical system and society associated with depression that differs for men and women. Given that our team believes that risk factors for adult-onset depression occur prenatally, during mid-to-late gestation, our studies will focus on determining fetal neurodevelopmental pathways and mechanisms involved in developing sex-specific adult brain abnormalities and endocrine dysfunction associated with depression.

In September 2007, our SCOR was established as one of eleven centers in the United States funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) to conduct multi-site, collaborative, interdisciplinary, basic and translational research focused on issues affecting women's health. Multidisciplinary collaboration is an essential part of our center, which formalizes prior collaborations between several Harvard departments (Psychiatry, Medicine, Neurology, Radiology, Genetics, and Public Health), and investigators from Colorado State University (CSU), University of Arizona College of Medicine (UACM), Columbia University, and University of California at Davis. The primary site for our SCOR is based at the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology at Brigham & Women's Hospital (under Dr. Jill Goldstein's leadership), whose primary mission resembles that of the SCOR: to facilitate studies of sex differences in clinical medicine or of disorders specific to women. A key benefit of this SCOR is its promotion of ongoing interaction among experts in psychiatry, endocrinology, neuroanatomy, radiology, developmental biology, epidemiology, genetics, immunology, reproductive physiology, toxicology, pharmacology, and public health focused on a single women's health issue. This multidisciplinary collaboration facilitated by the SCOR will help investigators from each discipline inform the others by sharing data and important findings as they occur, encouraging the development of new hypotheses for further work and innovative research methods, and thus increasing the likelihood of gaining insight into the etiology of depression in women and men.

Participating Institutions

Brigham & Women's Hospital (BWH)

Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology
BWH Biomedical Imaging Center
BWH Department of Psychiatry

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

MGH Department of Psychiatry
MGH Center for Human Genetic Research, Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit
MGH Center for Morphometric Analysis

Harvard Medical School (HMS)

Harvard Catalyst (CTSC)

Colorado State University (CSU), Department of Biomedical Sciences

Tobet Laboratory
Molecular Cellular & Integrative Neuroscience Program
School of Biomedical Engineering
Cellular and Molecular Biology Program

University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix (UACM)

Handa Laboratory

Columbia University

Jerome & Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory
Mailman School of Public Health

University of California-Davis

Center for Health and the Environment


To learn more about our Specialized Center of Research, please email the SCOR Center Coordinator, Jennifer Walch, Ed.M. at: jwalch@partners.org.