Joanne Weinberg, Professor Emerita and Distinguished University Scholar

PhD (Stanford University)
BA (Brown University)

Office:  604-822-6214, Lab: 604-822-4554
E-mail:  joanne.weinberg@ubc.ca
Website: www.weinberglab.ca

R e s e a r c h   I n t e r e s t s

Research in the Weinberg laboratory is focused on the investigation of how early life experiences alter brain and biological development. We have developed novel rodent models to examine brain-behavior relationships from prenatal life through adulthood. We also collaborate with Drs Grunau, Oberlander and colleagues to examine effects of early life experiences on human development. Overall, we are interested in how interactions between psychosocial and physiological events occurring early in development can produce long-term changes in hormonal, immune and behavioral function, and significantly alter vulnerability or increase resilience to diseases later in life.

A. Rodent models of early life experiences
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) describes the set of birth defects occurring in children born to women chronically consuming high levels of alcohol, and is one of the leading known causes of mental retardation in the Western world. Our animal model reproduces many of the characteristic somatic and functional deficits of human prenatal alcohol exposure. We utilize a broad multi-disciplinary approach to investigate mechanisms underlying prenatal alcohol (ethanol) effects on neuroendocrine and neuroimmune function. We have shown that in adulthood, animals prenatally exposed to ethanol show hyperresponsiveness to stressors, and marked changes in central regulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) or stress axis activity under both basal and stress conditions. Furthermore, sex differences in the effects of ethanol on patterns of HPA responsiveness are often observed, suggesting a role for the gonadal steroids in mediating prenatal ethanol effects on HPA function. Using an animal model of adjuvant-induced arthritis, our data also demonstrate marked ethanol-induced alterations in neuroimmune function, particularly in response to immune challenges and stress (collaborators, Michael Kobor, Gary Meadows [Washington State University]). Finally, we are examining the hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms may underlie the neuroendocrine and neuroimmune changes observed (collaborators, Sheila Innis, Angela Devlin).

B. Collaborative studies on infant development
Collaborative (Ruth Grunau and colleagues) projects are investigating the long-term consequences of early pain and medication (sedatives and analgesics) exposure on neurobehavioral development. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), infants born at very low (VLGA, ≤32 wk) or extremely low (ELGA, ≤28 wk) post-conceptional age are exposed to prolonged stress and pain related to repeated procedures. Our research begins to address possible mechanisms mediating the effects of early pain and medication exposure on specific aspects of biobehavioral function. Overall, this research is the first to demonstrate that programming of the HPA axis occurs in preterm infants. Studies with Oberlander and colleagues have been examining basal HPA regulation and stress responsiveness in infants with prenatal exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). The findings from these studies suggest an early “programming” effect of antenatal maternal mood, prenatal SRI exposure and postnatal maternal care giving on the HPA system, and have potentially important implications for understanding possible long-term effect of maternal depression and SRI treatment.

Dr. Weinberg’s research is supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NeuroDevNet (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada), and the Canadian Foundation for Fetal Alcohol Research.

R e c e n t   P u b l i c a t i o n s
  1. Workman J, Raineki C, Weinberg J, Galea LAM. (2015) Alcohol and pregnancy: effects on maternal care, HPA axis function, and hippocampal neurogenesis in adult females. Psychoneuroendocrinology 57:37-50. [IF 5.59].
  2. Comeau WL, Lee K, Anderson K, Weinberg J*. (2015) Prenatal alcohol exposure and adolescent stress increase sensitivity to stress and gonadal hormone influences on cognition in adult female rats. Physiol Behav. pii: S0031-9384(15)00107-9. [IF 3.15].
  3. Uban K, Comeau W, Bodnar T, Yu W, Weinberg J*, Galea LAM*. (2015) Amphetamine sensitization and cross-sensitization with acute restraint stress: impact of prenatal alcohol exposure in male and female rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 232:1705-16. [IF 3.988].
  4. Lussier AA, Stepien KA, Neumann SM, Pavlidis P, Kobor MS, Weinberg J*. (2015) Prenatal alcohol exposure alters steady-state and activated gene expression in the adult rat brain. Alcohol: Clin Exp Res 39:251-261. [IF 311
  5. Brummelte S, Chau C, Cepeda I, Degenhardt A, Weinberg J, Synne A, Grunau RE. (2015) Cortisol levels in former preterm children at school age are predicted by neonatal procedural pain-related stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology 51:151-163. [IF 59].
  6. Sliwowska JH, Bodnar TS, Weinberg J.* (2014) Prenatal alcohol exposure alters response of kisspeptin-ir neurons to estradiol and progesterone in adult female rats. Alcohol: Clin Exp Res 38:2780-2789. [IF 311].
  7. Comeau WL, Winstanley CA, Weinberg J*. (2014) Prenatal alcohol exposure and adolescent stress: Unmasking persistent attentional deficits in rats. Eur J Neurosci 40(7):3078-95. Epub 2014 Jul 25. [IF 669].
  8. Mackinnon McQuarrie, MA Siegel LS, Perry NE, Weinberg, J*. (2014) Reactivity to stress and the cognitive componenets of math disability in grade 1 children. J Learn Disabil 47:349-365. [IF 025].
  9. Raineki C, Hellemans KGC, Bodnar T, Lavigne KM, Ellis L, Woodward TS, Weinberg J*. (2014) Neurocircuitry underlying stress and emotional regulation in animals prenatally exposed to alcohol and subjected to chronic mild stress in adulthood. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 13:5:5. eCollection 2014.
  10. Sliwowska JH, Song HJ, Bodnar T, Weinberg J*. 2014 Prenatal alcohol exposure results in long-term serotonin neuron deficits in female rats: modulatory role of ovarian steroids. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 38:152-160. [IF 311].
  11. Grunau RE, Cepeda IL, Chau CMY*, Brummelte S*, Weinberg J, Lavoie P, Ladd M, Hirschfeld AF, Russell E, Koren G, Van Uum S, Brant R, Turvey SE. (2013) Neonatal pain-related stress and NFKBIA genotype are associated with altered cortisol levels in preterm boys at school age. PLoS ONE 8: e73926. [IF 534].
  12. Uban KA, Comeau W, Ellis L, Galea LAM, Weinberg J*. (2013) Plasticity of basal HPA and dopamine systems is altered differentially in males and females by prenatal alcohol exposure and chronic variable stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology 38:1953-1966. [IF 59].
  13. Gover A, Chau V, Miller SP, Brant R, McFadden DEl, Poskitt KJ, Synnes Al, Weinberg J, Grunau RE. (2013) Prenatal and postnatal inflammation in relation to cortisol levels in preterm infants at 18 months corrected age. J Perinatology 33:647-651. [IF 347].
  14. Lan N, Vogl W, Weinberg J*. (2013) Prenatal ethanol exposure delays the onset of spermatogenesis in the rat. Alcohol Clin Exp Res.37:1074-1081. CPS collaboration. [IF 311].
  15. Vaghri Z, Guhn M, Weinberg J, Grunau RE, Yu W, Hertzman C. (2013) Hair cortisol reflects socio-economic factors and hair zinc in pre-schoolers. Pychoneuroendocrinology 38:331-340. UBC collaboration. [IF 59].
  16. Zhang X, Lan N, Bach P, Nordstokke D, Yu W, Ellis L, Meadows GG, Weinberg J.* (2012) Prenatal alcohol exposure alters the course and severity of adjuvant-induced arthritis in female rats. Brain Behav. Immun 26:439-50. [IF 128]. International collaboration
  17. Gover A, Brummelte S, Synnes AR, Miller SP, Brant R, Weinberg J, Grunau RE. (2012) A single course of antenatal steroids did not alter resting cortisol in very preterm infants to 18 months corrected age. Acta Paediatr 101:604-608. UBC collaboration. [IF 842].
  18. Hill MN, Hellemans KGC, Verma P, Gorzalka BB, Weinberg J*. (2012) Neurobiology of chronic mild stress: Parallels to major depression. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 36:2085-2117. [IF 075].
  19. D’Angiulli, A, Weinberg J, Oberlander T, Grunau RE, Hertzman C, Maggi S. (2012) Frontal EEG correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and emotional states in adolescent children from lower and higher family socioeconomic status. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6:306. National collaboration
  20. Brummelte S, Grunau RE, Zaidman-Zait A, Weinberg J, Nordstokke D, Cepeda I. (2011) Cortisol levels in relation to maternal interaction and child internalizing behavior in preterm and full term children at 18 months corrected age. Dev Psychobiol 53: 184-195. [IF 163]. International collaboration.
  21. Butts KA, Weinberg J, Young AH, Phillips AG. (2011) Glucocorticoid receptors in the prefrontal cortex regulate stress-evoked dopamine efflux and aspects of executive function. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:18459-18464. [IF 5].
  22. Scher A, Hall WA, Zaidman-Zait A, Weinberg J*. (2010) Sleep quality, cortisol levels, and behavioral regulation in toddlers. Psychobiol 52:44-53. [IF 3.163]. International collaboration.
  23. Verma P, Hellemans KGC, Choi F, Yu W, Weinberg J*. (2010) Circadian phase and sex effects on depressive/anxiety-like behaviors and HPA axis responses to acute stress. Behav 99:276-285. [IF 3.15].
  24. Hellemans KG, Verma P, Yoon E, Yu WK, Young AH, Weinberg J*. (2010) Prenatal alcohol exposure and chronic mild stress differentially alter depressive- and anxiety-like behaviors in male and female offspring. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 34:633–645. [IF 311].
  25. Hellemans KGC, Sliwowska JH, Verma P, Weinberg J. (2010) Prenatal alcohol exposure: Fetal programming and later life vulnerability to stress, depression and anxiety disorders. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 34:791–807. [IF 075].
  26. Oberlander TF, Jacobson SW, Weinberg J, Grunau RE, Molteno CD, Jacobson JL. (2010). Prenatal alcohol exposure alters biobehavioral reactivity to pain in newborns. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 34:1-12. [IF 311]. International collaboration.
  27. Haley DW, Grunau RE, Weinberg J, Keidar A, Oberlander TF. (2010) Physiological correlates of memory recall in infancy: vagal tone, cortisol, and imitation in preterm and full-term infants at 6 months. Infant Behav Dev 33:219-234. [IF 203].
  28. Grunau RE, Tu MT, Whitfield MF, Oberlander TF, Weinberg J, Yu W, Thiessen P, Gosse G, Scheifele D. (2010) Cortisol, behavior, and heart rate reactivity to immunization pain at 4 months corrected age in infants born very preterm. Clin J Pain. 26:698-704. [IF 703].
  29. Sliwowska JH, Barker JM, Barha CK, Lan N, Weinberg J, Galea LAM. (2010) Stress-induced suppression of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult male rats is altered by prenatal ethanol exposure. Stress 13:301-313.[IF 463].
  30. Uban KA, Sliwowska JH, Lieblich S, Ellis LI, Yu W, Weinberg J, Galea LAM. (2010) Prenatal alcohol exposure reduces the proportion of newly produced neurons and glia in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in female rats. Hormones and Behavior 58: 835–843. [IF 511].
  31. Maken DS, Weinberg J, Cool DR, Hennessy MB. (2010) An investigation of the effects of maternal separation and novelty on central mechanisms mediating pituitary-adrenal activity in infant guinea pigs (cavia porcellus) Behav Neurosci 124:600-809. [IF 25]. International collaboration.
  32. Stern JM, Weinberg J, Hennessy MB. (2010) From Freud to a modern understanding of behavioral, physiological, and brain development. Dev Psychobiol 52:609-615. [IF 163]. International collaboration.
  33. Lan N, Hellemans KG, Ellis L, Viau V, Weinberg J.* (2009) Role of testosterone in mediating prenatal ethanol effects on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity in male rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34(9):1314-28. [IF 59].
  34. Lan N, Yamashita F, Halpert AG, Sliwowska JH, Viau V, Weinberg J.* (2009) Effects of prenatal ethanol exposure on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function across the estrous cycle. Clin. Exp. Res 33:1075-1088. [IF 3.311].
  35. Zhang X, Yu M, Yu Wl, Weinberg J, Shapiro J, McElwee KJ. (2009) Development of alopecia areata is associated with higher central and peripheral hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal tone in the skin graft induced C3H/HeJ mouse model. Investigative Dermatology 129:1527-1538. [IF 6.372].
Further publications can be found here.
I m a g e s
Detection of glucocorticoid mRNA by in situ hybridization.