Theses Doctoral

Sexually Dimorphic Impacts of Placental Endocrine Function: Unraveling Cerebellar Development and Inflammation Through Allopregnanolone Loss

Salzbank, Jacquelyn

The placenta plays a vital role in a healthy pregnancy by supporting the intricacies of fetal development. Over 10% of pregnancies experience impaired placental function, resulting in the loss of critical neuroactive steroids the fetal brain cannot yet make, thus leaving them vulnerable to perinatal brain injury and abnormal neurodevelopment. However, this vulnerability is not always equal. Many neurodevelopmental disorders exhibit a sex bias in incidence and severity. I hypothesize that loss of placental support during pregnancy results in sex differences in both behavioral presentation as well as on the cellular and transcriptomic levels.

Utilizing the akr1c14cyp19aKO (plKO) mouse model, which features placenta-specific allopregnanolone (ALLO) knockdown, I investigated the sex specific impact of placental hormones on cerebellar development. Here I show that placental ALLO is essential for cerebellar white matter development and inflammatory regulation via microglial function. Male mice without placental ALLO exhibit signs of placental inflammation, accelerated postnatal myelination, and defects in microglial phagocytosis of excess myelin. Alternatively, females seem to be more resilient with a progressive anti-inflammatory profile across development and reduced myelination. Additionally male plKO show autism-like behaviors such as deficits in social behavior and increased stereotyped behavior. The females do not exhibit this phenotype.

My main goals were threefold; to investigate how male and female inflammatory profiles differ and where this difference originates, to investigate how this inflammation impacts microglia and thereby oligodendrocytes, and how I can alter microglial function in a way to improve plKO outcomes. Mechanistically, these changes appear to be in part due to baseline sex differences in response to inflammatory stimuli which prime microglia to differentially support the surrounding white matter. Together, this work supports a novel link between placental ALLO loss, microglial function, and sex specific presentation of neurodevelopmental disorders.


  • thumnail for Salzbank_columbia_0054D_18566.pdf Salzbank_columbia_0054D_18566.pdf application/pdf 3.5 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Penn, Anna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2024