Frances Champagne, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University and a Sackler Scientist with the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology.
Dr. Champagne’s main research interest concerns how genetic and environmental factors interact to regulate maternal behavior, and how natural variations in this behavior can shape the behavioral development of offspring through epigenetic changes in gene expression in a brain region specific manner.
During her doctoral work in Professor Michael Meaney’s lab at McGill University, Montreal, Dr. Champagne explored the role of estrogen-oxytocin interactions in regulating natural variations in maternal care and the generational transmission of this behavior. This investigation implicated natural variations in estrogen receptor expression in mediating differences in estrogen sensitivity between mothers who exhibit high vs. low levels of maternal investment. This research also demonstrated that nucleus accumbens dopamine activity was critical in generating these differences in maternal behavior between females. Significantly, daughters inherit the estrogen receptor expression of their mothers in a non-genomic fashion permitting the trans-generational inheritance of maternal care. Moreover, Dr. Champagne demonstrated the role of environmental factors in regulating behavior, in particular the effects of gestational stress and social interaction in regulating hypothalamic oxytocin receptor density and hence maternal behavior.
Dr. Champagne has further researched epigenetic sources of behavioral variation in her post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge. Using various mouse models, Dr. Champagne has investigated the genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors that are important in regulating maternal care and offspring development in this species. Dr. Champagne’s current and future research will focus on 1) investigating the epigenetic mechanisms via which individual variation in reproductive, social and addictive behavior can be induced via variation in early life experiences, and 2) investigating the epigenetic mechanisms via which offspring may overcome or be resilient to such early life experiences.