Connors-BRI Symposium

Incorporating Sex as Biologic Variable to Advance Health

May 24, 2021 | 3-5PM

Virtual Event

Justine Cohen, MSc, MFA, PhD

Massachusetts General Hospital


The default mode network (DMN) is a group of brain regions active when a person is not focused on a task and is in a mind-wandering state. It is associated with affective cognition, emotion regulation, and representation of self in relation to the world, and is dysregulated in several psychiatric diseases, such as major depressive disorder (MDD). Despite the fact that several regions of DMN are dense with gonadal hormone receptors, little research has explored sex differences in the DMN. We examined resting state functional connectivity within the DMN in women in different phases of the menopause transition and in men using region of interest (ROI)-to-ROI analysis in DMN nodes. The menopausal transition is associated with increased vulnerability to depression. We hypothesized that changes in DMN may reflect this increased susceptibility during perimenopause and may provide a critical window into brain aging. Using a 3T scanner, a resting state scan was acquired from 180 men and women. Analyses compared men and all women and women divided into pre-, peri-, and postmenopausal stage. 35% of our sample had a history of MDD. We found that healthy women in perimenopause had increased connectivity between hippocampus and other areas of the DMN (i.e., precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex, angular gyri, and medial prefrontal cortex) compared to men and other healthy women. This was significantly different from perimenopausal women with MDD, suggesting the necessity for increased brain connectivity during the menopausal transition. Our results indicated that hippocampus, a site of adult neurogenesis and dense with steroid hormone receptors, may be integral to understanding sex differences in DMN changes during aging that deviate in MDD.


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.