Women’s Brain Initiative


Targeted Core Research Portfolio


A key goal of the Women’s Brain Initiative is to help expand the number of experienced physicians and researchers who are dedicated to the field of women’s brain health. We are doing so by attracting highly accomplished investigators from related fields and supporting their research ideas to apply their skills to investigate significant questions related to women’s brain health.


Five such multi-year research efforts are already underway. Each WBI project is led by a senior investigator:


Katherine E. Burdick, PhD

BWH Department of Psychiatry and Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology

Harvard Catalyst BIO

WBI Project — Predictors of Cognitive Impairment in Postmenopausal Women with Major Depression


The central goal of this WBI project is to understand cognitive heterogeneity and identify clinical and biological predictors of both risk of and resilience to cognitive decline. Dr. Burdick and her team aim to provide new insights into the predictors of cognitive decline, help inform novel treatments targeting the prevention of cognitive impairment and improve the lives of the many women suffering from this condition.

Silke Nuber, PhD

Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases

Harvard Catalyst BIO

WBI Project— Sex Differences and Dopamine Changes in Parkinson’s Disease


The aim of this WBI project is to identify the factors responsible for the protective advantage of the female sex in Parkinson’s disease. This project leverages a recent discovery by Dr. Dennis Selkoe and colleagues that the αSyn protein occurs normally as a “tetramer” (four units of αSyn wound together), which resists the abnormal αSyn aggregation seen in PD. This project also benefits from the use of a novel mouse model developed by Dr. Nuber, which is based on abolishing the normal αSyn tetramers and thereby triggering the development of a progressive PD-like syndrome.

Ursula Kaiser, MD

BWH Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension

Harvard Catalyst BIO

WBI Project— Endocrine Disruptors and the Expression of MKRN3


Research has shown that women are exposed each day to an average of 100 endocrine disrupting compounds, which may interfere with hormone action. The aim of this WBI project is to explore the effects of specific endocrine disruptors in neuronal cell and mouse models and provide important insights into the potential adverse effects on female health, including precocious puberty, infertility, and metabolic syndrome.

Tanjuja Chitnis, MD

BWH Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Disease

Harvard Catalyst BIO

WBI Project — Role of Endocrine Disruptors in the Initiation of Multiple Sclerosis


This project will investigate the effects of endocrine disruptors on immune cells and their ability to migrate to the brain to cause autoimmune disorders, like MS. Dr. Chitnis and colleagues also will investigate how the interaction of endocrine disruptors with sex hormones may activate immune cells to cause MS.

Laura Holsen, PhD

BWH Department of Psychiatry

Harvard Catalyst BIO

WBI Project— Neuro-cognitive Changes in Obesity: The Role of the Appetite Hormone Ghrelin in Mediating the Relationship between Body Mass Index and Abnormal Brain Structure and Function in Postmenopausal Women


Dr. Holsen and colleagues are examining whether postmenopausal women with and without obesity show different relationships between ghrelin (a hormone linked to eat behavior), cognitive function, and brain activity/structure relationships in regions serving cognition and food intake. The aim is to advance our understanding of the link between obesity and cognitive decline.

Progress is already underway for the Women’s Brain Initiative to create and fund an additional Targeted Core Research Portfolio. For more information, contact Charles Jennings, Executive Director, Women’s Brain Initiative, cgjennings@bwh.harvard.edu