Fellowship funds microglial research focused on women’s health

Women regularly face barriers to well-being and healthcare, in part due to the lack of sex specific-oriented research. For example, as a significant number of studies feature only male models and ignore female-specific issues, there is a historical male bias that incorrectly assumes females and males always respond to medications in the same way and present the same disease mechanisms and symptoms. This can be detrimental to women’s health outcomes.

imagePostdoctoral fellow Dr. Adriano Chaves (they/them; pictured; Tremblay Lab) will be able to help correct this oversight thanks to their 2023 Graduate and Fellowship Research Award in Women’s Health at the Postdoctoral Level from the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI). Dr. Chaves received the award for their project investigating the role of microglia in remodelling the extracellular matrix, with a specific focus on how this remodelling affects synaptic plasticity and emotional and cognitive behaviour along the estrous cycle in female models.

Microglia, the brain’s immune cells, are critical for brain health across the lifespan. Microglia’s ability to reshape the brain extracellular matrix — a complex gel-like molecular network that surrounds neuronal cells — has been reported as a key mechanism for brain plasticity. It is also key to the excitatory-inhibitory synaptic balance, which is tightly linked to mood disorders. The goal of this project is to determine how the estrous cycle influences microglial remodelling of the extracellular matrix and its role in modulating synaptic plasticity, the ability of synapses to reshape their connections upon exposure to new stimuli. Dr. Chaves also hopes to determine how this affects emotional and cognitive behaviour in adult female models during normal physiological conditions.

Studying these mechanisms is important to open potential future therapeutic avenues for estrous-associated pathological conditions affecting females, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder and various neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disease conditions that present sex differences.

The WHRI launched this research award in 2020 with the goal of creating a funding opportunity specific to the trainee community in BC. Dr. Chaves’ fellowship, which is valued at $21,000 for one year, is one of three WHRI graduate and postdoctoral-level awards granted in 2023. Supported through funding provided by the BC Ministry of Health in partnership with the BC Women’s Health Foundation, the award will provide them with partial salary support.

Dr. Chaves also received the Aspiration 2030 post-doctoral fellowship granted by UVic. Through this combined support, Dr. Chaves will be able to investigate the dynamic interactions between microglia, the brain’s extracellular matrix, and synapses across sexes in physiological and chronic stress-related conditions with translational implications for depression and other neuropsychiatric conditions.