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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Taylor Drazan, Winner of the 2022 NIMH Three-Minute Talks Competition

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Hi, my name is Taylor Drazan, and today I'm gonna talk to you about my current research project. Majority of women will become pregnant at least once in their lifetime. Of these women, a handful will suffer from bouts of anxiety, depression, and stress during their pregnancies, leading to nearly half a million women developing postpartum depression yearly. Pregnancy is a major physiological event the body goes through, yet little is known what is actually occurring in the brain during this period and its influence on a woman's behavior toward herself and toward her newborn. The literature tells us that pregnancy plays a role in brain alterations, hormone levels, and behavior, but the exact role and the relationship these factors have to one another is not yet clear.

To bridge this lack of knowledge and to better understand the underlying neurobiology of pregnancy and the postpartum, our group is using the common marmoset as a model for pregnancy. The marmoset is the ideal model for this project because of their short gestational period and the opportunity for them to live with their family units in a laboratory study. So we asked how can we best capture any changes occurring in the pregnant marmoset, and we created this schedule. This schedule contains four-time points in which we examine our marmoset across her gestational period. The first time point is prior to her becoming pregnant. The second and third time point are during her gestation. And the last time point in which we examine our marmoset is during her postpartum. At each time point, I created a schedule of procedures that I perform to examine any changes occurring in our pregnant marmoset. The first procedure performed is a resting state scan. This scan is done while the marmoset is awake so that we can examine the functional connectivity throughout her brain. The second procedure performed is a blood draw so that we can do a hormonal analysis on our female. The third procedure performed is an MRI and a DTI. These scans are performed under general anesthesia so that we can look at the structure of her brain at that time point. And the last procedure performed is a behavioral test. In this behavioral test, we examine female's responsiveness towards infants as a measure of maternal behavior.

Thus far, our preliminary behavioral findings support previous findings of infant avoidance in females prior to parturition and infant responsiveness in females after parturition while she's in her postpartum period. Moving forward, I'm excited to start analyzing our multimodal neuroimaging data to elucidate the relationship between pregnancy, the postpartum, and maternal behavior, and in the future, to have these data help in the development of targeted therapeutics for women who suffer from mental illnesses related to this physiological event. Thank you for listening.