Sarah Clinton, Ph.D.
Title: Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurobiology
Academic Appointments with UAB:
- Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology
- Faculty Member, Comprehensive Neuroscience Center
- Secondary Appointment in Neurobiology
- Undergraduate: B.S., Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, 1999
- Graduate School: Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of Michigan, 2004
- Postdoctoral Fellow: University of Michigan 2004-2008
- Research Investigator/Junior faculty: University of Michigan, 2008-2010
Inborn differences in personality and emotional reactivity strongly shape how individuals respond to stress and increase vulnerability to psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. This biological endowment powerfully interacts with early-life environmental influences, such as exposure to early-life stress or pharmacological agents, and together these factors sculpt neural and emotional development. Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms whereby inborn and environmental factors interact to contribute to the affective dysfunction in the developing brain is crucial for generating improved preventative treatments.
My current research utilizes molecular, neuroanatomical, and behavioral approaches in rodent models to examine how perturbed brain development may contribute to emotional dysfunction later in life. To elucidate genetic, developmental, and environmental factors that underlie individual differences in emotionality and stress reactivity, I use a rat model of inherited differences in emotionality where rats were bred based on differences in novelty exploration. Highly exploratory rats are called High Responders (HRs), while inhibited rats exhibiting dramatically less exploration are called Low Responders (LRs). This single behavioral trait (high vs. low novelty exploration) strongly predicts anxiety and depressive behavior as well as vulnerability to chronic stress (LRs) and propensity to aggression, impulsivity, and addictive behavior (HRs). The LR-HR traits are heritable (Stead, Clinton et al, Behavioral Genetics, 2006), but are also affected by environmental perturbations, including prenatal stress (Clinton et al, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2008) and differences in maternal care (Clinton et al, Hormones and Behavior, 2007). These features make the model attractive for studying gene × environmental interactions that shape individual differences in emotionality and predisposition to anxious- and depressive-like behavior. Unraveling such complicated genetic, neurobiological, and environmental interactions in rodents should yield important results to inform work in humans, and may ultimately impact our understanding of the developmental neurobiology of emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.
People In The Lab:
- Stead JDH*, Clinton SM*, Neal CR, Schneider J, Jama A, Miller S, Watson SJ and Akil H. Selective breeding for divergence in novelty-seeking traits: Evidence for enrichment of anxiety-related behaviors. Behavioral Genetics, 36(5):697-712, 2006. PMID 16502134
- Clinton SM*, Vazquez DM*, Kabbaj M, Kabbaj M-H, Watson SJ and Akil H. Individual differences in novelty-seeking and emotional reactivity correlate with variation in maternal behavior. Hormones and Behavior, 51(5): 655-664, 2007. PMCID 1945104
- Clinton SM, Miller S, Watson SJ, Akil H. Prenatal stress does not alter innate novelty-seeking behavioral traits, but differentially affects individual differences in neuroendocrine stress responsivity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33(2):162-77, 2008. PMC2430412
- Davis BA*, Clinton SM*, Huda Akil, Jill B. Becker. The effects of novelty-seeking phenotypes and sex differences on acquisition of cocaine self-administration in selectively-bred High-Responder and Low-Responder rats. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, 90(3):331-8, 2008. PMC2474787
- Turner CA, Flagel SB, Clinton SM, Akil H, Watson, SJ. Cocaine interacts with the novelty-seeking trait to modulate FGFR1 gene expression in the rat. Neuroscience Letters, 446(2-3): 105-107, 2008. PMC2633028
- García-Fuster MJ, Clinton SM, Watson SJ, and Akil H. Effect of Cocaine on Fas-Associated Protein with Death Domain (FADD) in the Rat Brain: Individual Differences in a Model of Differential Vulnerability to Drug Abuse. Neuropsychopharmacology, 34(5) 1123-34, 2009. PMC2656579
- Turner CA, Capriles N, Flagel SB, Perez JA, Clinton SM, Watson SJ, Akil H. Neonatal FGF2 alters cocaine self-administration in the adult rat. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, 92(1): 100-104, 2009. PMID 19014962
- Perez JA, Clinton SM, Turner CA, Watson SJ, Akil H. A New Role for FGF2 as an Endogenous Inhibitor of Anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(19):6379-87, 2009. PMC2748795
- Flagel SB, Robinson TE, Clark JJ, Clinton SM, Watson SJ, Seeman P, Phillips PEM, Akil H. An Animal Model of Genetic Vulnerability to Behavioral Disinhibition and Responsiveness to Reward-Related Cues: Implications for Addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(2):388-400, 2010. Epub. PMC2794950
- García-Fuster MJ, Perez JA, Clinton SM, Watson SJ, Akil H. Impact of cocaine on adult hippocampal neurogenesis in an animal model of differential propensity to drug abuse. European Journal of Neuroscience, 31(1):79-89, 2010. PMID: 20104651
- Clinton SM*, Bedrosian TA*, Abraham AD, Watson SJ, Akil H. Neural and Environmental Factors Impacting Maternal Behavior Differences in High- versus Low-Novelty Seeking Rats. Hormones and Behavior, 57(4-5): 463-473, 2010. Epub. PMC2917072
- Flagel SB*, Clark JJ*, Robinson TE, Mayo L, Czuj A, Willuhn I, Akers CA, Clinton SM, Phillips PEM, Akil H. A selective role for dopamine in reward learning. Nature, In Press, 2011.
- Cummings JA, Gowl BA, Westenbroek C, Clinton SM, Akil H, Becker JBB. Differential Effects of a Selectively-Bred Novelty-Seeking Phenotype and Sex Differences on the Motivation to Take Cocaine in Rats.Biology of Sex Differences, In Press, 2011
- Stedenfeld KA, Clinton SM, Kerman IA, Akil H, Watson SJ, Sved AF. Novelty-Seeking Behavior Predicts Vulnerability in a Rodent Model of Depression. Physiology & Behavior, In Press, 2011