Connors-BRI Symposium

Incorporating Sex as Biologic Variable to Advance Health

May 24, 2021 | 3-5PM

Virtual Event

Jennifer Sneider, PhD

McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a debilitating disorder, which interferes with daily functioning, and occurs at a higher rate in women versus men. Without treatment, MDD is a chronic burden associated with an increasing disability over time, particularly in women. Often emerging during adolescence, MDD has pronounced, detrimental effects, including negative impacts on academic, cognitive and social outcomes. Depressive episodes in adolescents typically last several months, and when untreated, increases harmful and life-threatening behaviors, including substance use, self-harm, and suicide, the latter of which is a leading cause of death among youth worldwide. As adolescent girls likewise have greater odds of developing depression than boys (36.1% versus 13.6%, respectively), understanding sex differences in MDD is critical. Hippocampal structure and function have been linked to MDD pathology, suggesting the hippocampus is a particularly vulnerable region. As hippocampal maturation is ongoing during adolescence, examining sex-specific effects of MDD on memory is warranted. We have applied the spatial memory Morris Water Task (MWT), known to demonstrate sex differences, to confirm hippocampal activation during fMRI. Using this task, we found functional alterations associated with MDD in adult women. While we have shown hippocampal activation during task performance in healthy adolescents, hippocampal correlates of MDD, prior to the onset of symptoms during adolescence, is largely understudied. As neuronal efficiency increases developmentally during task performance, emerging depressive symptoms could negatively impact brain maturation. Characterizing hippocampal function in adolescent girls before onset of depressive symptomatology may reveal neurobiological markers that predict who is at risk of developing depression. In turn, this could inform prevention strategies and help develop novel treatment approaches for adolescents with MDD, which are likely sex specific. Thus, incorporating sex as a biologic variable is crucial to understanding healthy brain development, as well as for diminishing impacts of MDD during adolescence.


3PM – Welcome Remarks
3:05PM – Keynote Address
3:45PM – Featured Short Talks
4:20PM – Lightning Talks
4:50PM – Closing Remarks

Keynote Speaker

Janine Austin Clayton, MD

Janine Austin Clayton, M.D., Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health and Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the architect of the NIH policy requiring scientists to consider sex as a biological variable across the research spectrum. This policy is part of NIH’s initiative to enhance reproducibility through rigor and transparency. As co-chair of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers with NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, Dr. Clayton also leads NIH’s efforts to advance women in science careers.

Prior to joining the ORWH, Dr. Clayton was the Deputy Clinical Director of the National Eye Institute (NEI) for seven years. A board-certified ophthalmologist, Dr. Clayton’s research interests include autoimmune ocular diseases and the role of sex and gender in health and disease. She is the author of more than 120 scientific publications, journal articles, and book chapters.
Dr. Clayton, a native Washingtonian, received her undergraduate degree with honors from Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine. She completed a residency in ophthalmology at the Medical College of Virginia. Dr. Clayton completed fellowship training in cornea and external disease at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital and in uveitis and ocular immunology at NEI.

Dr. Clayton has received numerous awards, including the Senior Achievement Award from the Board of Trustees of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 2008 and the European Uveitis Patient Interest Association Clinical Uveitis Research Award in 2010. She was selected as a 2010 Silver Fellow by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. In 2015, she was awarded the American Medical Women’s Association Lila A. Wallis Women’s Health Award and the Wenger Award for Excellence in Public Service. Dr. Clayton was granted the Bernadine Healy Award for Visionary Leadership in Women’s Health in 2016. She was also selected as an honoree for the Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards and the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Awards for Outstanding Government Service in 2017.