Connors-BRI Symposium

Incorporating Sex as Biologic Variable to Advance Health

May 24, 2021 | 3-5PM

Virtual Event

Meenakshi Rao, MD, PhD

Boston Children’s Hospital
Pediatrics, Gastroenterology


Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) have prominent sex differences in incidence, symptoms, and treatment response that are not well understood. Androgens are steroid hormones present at much higher levels in males than females and could be involved in these differences. In adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a FGID that affects 5-10% of the population worldwide, we found that free testosterone levels were lower than those in healthy controls and inversely correlated with symptom severity. To determine how this diminished androgen signaling could contribute to bowel dysfunction, we depleted gonadal androgens in adult mice and found that this caused a profound deficit in gastrointestinal transit. Restoring a single androgen hormone was sufficient to rescue this deficit, suggesting that circulating androgens are essential for normal bowel motility in vivo. To determine the site of action, we probed androgen receptor expression in the intestine and discovered, unexpectedly, that a large subset of enteric neurons becomes androgen-responsive upon puberty. Androgen signaling to these neurons was required for normal colonic motility in adult mice. Taken together, these observations establish a new role for gonadal androgens in the neural regulation of bowel function and link altered androgen levels with a common digestive disorder.


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.