Research Award, Onakomaiya

On February 10, 2014 by Grad Forum

marie_lab_thumbnailMarie Onakomaiya (Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine) received the Graduate Alumni Research Award this year. The award aided Onakomaiya in completing experiments for her dissertation, which she defended in January. Below she describes her work on the relationship between steroids and anxiety.

I used the funds from the Graduate Alumni Research Award to finish experiments for one of my major thesis projects over the summer of 2013. The overall focus of my research is on the sex-specific effects of anabolic androgenic steroids on anxiety. This specific project determined the impact of exercise on anabolic steroid-induced anxiety in males and females.

Anabolic androgenic steroids are chemically modified androgens that were initially developed for clinical use to “build tissue” and treat conditions like hypogonadism, muscle wasting associated with cancer and AIDS, and certain blood disorders. However, since the mid-1900s, the most common use of anabolic steroids has been illicit, to improve athletic performance or to improve physical appearance. Users self-administer these chemically modified drugs at concentrations far above the level of natural steroids or those used to treat clinical disorders.

It is clear that illicit anabolic steroid use not only alters the physique of the body, but also behavior, which means it alters the brain. The anabolic steroid user of today may be male or female, elite or non-elite athlete, adult or adolescent, and the effects of the steroids vary across all of these different types of users. The ultimate goal of the work in our lab is to provide a better understanding of the true effects of long-term steroid use on the brain, and compare the behavior of different groups of steroid users especially in the general population.

My experiments have focused on understanding the impact of anabolic steroid use in adolescents and how use may differentially affect boys versus girls. There are many important differences in how steroids are metabolized by males versus females and in the sensitivity of different parts of their brains to the steroids. My data demonstrated that exposure to these steroids has significantly different effects on the expression of anxious behaviors in female versus male mice (our model organism). In addition, results indicated that the impact of exercise on anxiety in anabolic steroid-treated mice differs between the sexes. Funds from the Graduate Alumni Research Award allowed me to expand this work to further examine changes in brain chemistry that contributed to the differences I observed.

This work was recently submitted for publication—it is the first paper of which I am the lead author, and it is a very proud achievement. This completion of this research would not have been possible without the support of the Graduate Alumni Research Award.

by Marie Onakomaiya

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