Cell death peaks around the time of birth in several brain regions of the mouse. In addition, preliminary data show that natural (vaginal) birth might be important for the normal course of cell death because Cesarean born mice have decreased cell death in several brain regions compared to vaginally born mice. Birth entails a dramatic entry to the world and, in preparation, key peripheral organs (e.g., lungs, gut, and heart) undergo physiological changes. We hypothesize that birth is also an important event in brain development, for example, by triggering cell death. In this project, we are studying how birth influences cell death in the brain by manipulating the timing or mode of birth in mice. We are also interested in identifying mechanisms underlying cell death at birth, as well as exploring additional effects of birth on brain development and behavior.



Recently, it has become clear that inflammatory signals from the gut play an important role in programming of the brain. Our lab studies the effect of immune activation on neural systems involved in social behavior in males and females. This includes studies on the effect of gut microbiota on the brain in collaboration with the laboratory of Andrew Gewirtz. The gut microbiota consists of all the micro-organisms that colonize the gastrointestinal tract and play an important role for immune function and digestion.  These microbiota then communicate with the brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. Preliminary results from our lab indicate that the microbiota influences the development of vasopressin innervation in sexually dimorphic ways. Our studies are geared towards identifying components of this pathway and the role it plays in controlling behavior.



Dr. Castillo-Ruiz


Nicole Ronczkowski

Aviva Lab Pic.jpeg

Aviva Gars


The microbiota influences cell death and microglial colonization in the perinatal mouse brain

January 2018

Castillo-Ruiz, A, Mosley, MM, George, AG, et al. Brain Beh Immunologydoi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.08.027

Effects of gut-derived endotoxin on anxiety-like and repetitive behaviors in male and female mice 

January 2018

Fields, CT, Chassaing, B, Castillo-Ruiz, A, et al. Biol Sex Differences. doi: 10.1186/s13293-018-0166-x.

Vasopressin deletion is associated with sex-specific shifts in the gut microbiome

January 2018

Fields CT, Chassaing, B, Paul, MJ, et al. Gut microbes. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1356557.