For over 40 years, my colleagues and I have worked to better understand the enduring effects of early changes in brain development. I especially want to understand which specific brain changes cause permanent complications, such as childhood neuropsychiatric disorders like learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The goal of all my projects is to gain insight into the factors influencing brain development, with the hope that, one day, my research will lead to improved cognitive outcomes for children with developmental problems.
My work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center began in 1976, when I joined the organization as a postdoctoral research scholar. In 1978, I was recruited to the faculty of the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine as an assistant professor. I was promoted to associate professor in 1982, tenured in 1984, and promoted to professor in 1988 with primary appointment in pediatrics and joint appointment in environmental health.
Now, I direct the Vorhees-Williams lab together with Michael Williams, PhD. Our current research focuses on mutations in brain-specific genes and proteins. We use laboratory rats to study how genes, environmental agents and other factors, like proton radiation, adversely affect the developing brain and ultimately lead to neurological and cognitive disorders.
Beyond the lab, Dr. Williams and I also co-direct the Animal Behavior Core. In this facility, we lead projects from other investigators and study how exposure to commonly used pesticides, such as pyrethroids, modify the genetic mutations which predispose an individual to ADHD. We also investigate how a key manganese transporter, SLC30A10, governs intracellular manganese concentrations when dysregulated, and how this impacts cognitive ability.
Our lab is recognized for the development of the Cincinnati water maze, as well as protocols for the Morris water maze, which are both used to study learning and memory in rodents. We also developed the first latrophilin-3 and SLC30A10 transgenic rat, as well as the first phosphodiesterase-1b mouse transgenic model of disorders associated with these specific genetic mutations.
In collaboration with the Proton Center and radiation oncology experts, we also investigate different proton dose rates on the brain and behaviors at different stages of development. Proton radiation often replaces X-radiation in the treatment of brain tumors. We know that protons cause less damage to normal tissues near malignancies, which reduces long-term neurocognitive side effects. However, exactly how this occurs, as well as the optimal dose-rate to achieve tissue sparing, is something we are actively investigating.
I was named an Eli Lilly Distinguished Lecturer in 1990 and a Grass Foundation Lecturer in 2002 by the Society for Neuroscience. I have been an invited speaker at symposia in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and throughout the United States.
My additional activities include:
- Former director of the University of Cincinnati’s Molecular and Developmental Biology (MDB) graduate program and current member of the admissions committee for the UC Neuroscience graduate program
- Founding member of the Developmental Neurotoxicology Society in 1977 and president of the same in 1984-1985 and 2012-2013
- National Institutes of Health grant recipient and grant application reviewer for over 35 years
- Current section editor for the journals Brain, Behavior & Immunity and Neurotoxicology
- Former editor-in-chief of the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology
I have been extramurally funded for 35 years, including grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Defense Biomedical Research Program, and other agencies and organizations. I held an NIH T32 training grant that was funded for 43 years. I have served on multiple advisory panels for the FDA, the National Academy of Science and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Behavioral neuroscience; neurotoxicology; neuropsychopharmacology
Professor, UC Department of PediatricsUC Department of Environmental Health