The Lenz lab at OSU is dedicated to understanding how the brain develops and changes during particularly flexible periods of life: before birth, during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. We focus on interactions between hormones, biological sex, immune signals, the brain with experiences, such as stress, inflammation, or injury. Our lab focuses primarily on immune cells that reside in the brain which interact with neurons to shape brain function.
Our main research projects are focused on the following questions:
- How does early life stress alter the function of immune cells in the brain, called microglia and mast cells, to shape brain development and outcomes such as myelination, synaptic pruning, growth factor expression, the stress response, and anxiety behavior? Does stress during development impact males and females differently because there are sex differences in these immune cells and hormone levels during development?
- Does early life allergic inflammation alter the trajectory of offspring brain development to increase risk for neurodevelopmental disorders? Our current work is focused on vertical transmission of allergic responses from mother to offspring, activation of brain-resident mast cells in offspring, and the sculpting of neural circuits for social behavior, especially glutamate and oxytocin synapses.
- How does pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) impact males and females differently? Our current work is focused on mast cells, whole brain imaging of developmental myelination, synaptic pruning and the blood brain barrier. (Collaboration with Dr. Niko Kokiko-Cochran at OSUWMC; funded by the Brain Injury Association of America)
- Is neuroimmune function altered in the maternal brain during pregnancy? Does maternal stress exposure during pregnancy lead to symptoms of postpartum depression? We are focused on how stress during pregnancy may lead neuroimmune cells to aberrantly sculpt the mood-related brain circuits that lead to maternal care disruption and mood disturbances in new mothers. (Collaboration with Dr. Benedetta Leuner at OSU; funded by NIMH).