Catherine S. Woolley Professor, William Deering Chair in Biological Sciences, Neurobiology

Research Interests

Hormonal Effects on Hippocampal Synaptic Structure and Function

Research in my lab is directed toward understanding the interaction(s) between endocrine rhythms and the limbic system of the mammalian brain. Specifically, we study how fluctuating levels of the ovarian steroid hormones, estradiol and progesterone, regulate structure and function of hippocampal circuitry. The hippocampus is a brain region that normally plays an important role in cognitive and sensory information processing and, under pathological conditions, is a circuit that can generate and propagate seizure activity. Our research uses a multi-disciplinary approach that combines light and electron microscopy, electrophysiological recording from hippocampal slices and behavioral testing to understand the "hows" and "whys" of steroid hormone regulation of synaptic connectivity within the hippocampus.

We have found that concerted action of estradiol and progesterone regulates excitatory input to a major group of hippocampal output cells, the CA1 pyramidal cells. Hormone-induced changes in the density and number excitatory synaptic contacts on CA1 pyramidal cells are associated with increased sensitivity to excitatory synaptic input, enhanced synaptic plasticity, and greater susceptibility to seizure activity.

Thus, by regulating the physical substrates of information flow in the brain: dendrites, axons and the synapses that connect them, steroid hormones such as estradiol and progesterone may predispose neural circuitry to function differently in different hormonal states. Our aim is to understand how hormone-induced structural and functional plasticity regulates both normal an pathological brain function.

Selected Publications

Acute inhibition of neurosteroid estrogen synthesis suppresses status epilepticus in an animal model. Sato SM and Woolley CS. eLife. 2016 April 15;5:e12917.

Sex differences in cerebellar synaptic transmission and sex-specific responses to autism-linked Gabrb3 mutations in mice. Mercer AA, Palarz KJ, Tabatadze N, Woolley CS, and Raman IM. eLife. 2016 April 14;5:e07596.

17β-Estradiol Acutely Potentiates Glutamatergic Synaptic Transmission in the Hippocampus through Distinct Mechanisms in Males and Females. Oberlander JG and Woolley CS. Journal of Neuroscience. 2016 March 2;36(9):2677-2690.

Sex Differences in Molecular Signaling at Inhibitory Synapses in the Hippocampus. Tabatadze N, Huang G, May RM, Jain A, and Woolley CS. Journal of Neuroscience. 2015 August 12;35(32):11252-11265.

Estradiol regulates large dense core vesicles in the hippocampus of adult female rats. May RM, Tabatadze N, Czech MM, and Woolley CS. Brain Structure and Function. 2014 November;219(6):1947-1954.

Quantitative Analysis of Long-Form Aromatase mRNA in the Male and Female Rat Brain. Tabatadze N, Sato SM, and Woolley CS. PLoS ONE. 2014 July 18;9(7):e100628.

Distribution and Posttranslational Modification of Synaptic ERα in the Adult Female Rat Hippocampus. Tabatadze N, Smejkalova T, and Woolley CS. Endocrinology. 2013 February 1;154(2):819-830.

Estradiol Acutely Suppresses Inhibition in the Hippocampus through a Sex-Specific Endocannabinoid and mGluR-Dependent Mechanism. Huang GZ and Woolley CS. Neuron. 2012 June 7;74(5):801-808.

Ultrastructural analysis of sex differences in nucleus accumbens synaptic connectivity. Wissman AM, May RM, and Woolley CS. Brain Structure and Function. 2012 April;217(2):181-190.

Sex differences and effects of cocaine on excitatory synapses in the nucleus accumbens. Wissman AM, McCollum AF, Huang G-Z, Nikrodhanond AA, and Woolley CS. Neuropharmacology. 2011 July-August;61(1-2):217-227.

Quantitative Mapping of Cocaine-Induced ΔFosB Expression in the Striatum of Male and Female Rats. Sato SM, Wissman AM, McCollum AF, and Woolley CS. PLoS ONE. 2011 July 1;6(7):e21783.

Estradiol potentiation of NR2B-dependent EPSCs is not due to changes in NR2B protein expression or phosphorylation. Snyder MA, Cooke BM, and Woolley CS. Hippocampus. 2011 April;21(4):398-408.

View all publications by Catherine S. Woolley listed in the National Library of Medicine (PubMed).