Honors & Awards

  • Taking Flight Award, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) (2014)
  • McCormick Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship, Stanford School of Medicine (2012-2014)
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Epilepsy Foundation (2011-2012)
  • Endocrine Scholars Award, The Endocrine Society (2008)
  • Peach Outstanding Graduate Student Award, University of Virginia (2006)
  • National Research Service Award, NIH/NINDS (2005-2007)
  • Fulbright Fellowship, Italy, U.S. Department of State (2001)

Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Virginia (2008)
  • Bachelor of Arts, Smith College (2001)

Stanford Advisors


Journal Articles

  • Astrocytes potentiate GABAergic transmission in the thalamic reticular nucleus via endozepine signaling PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Christian, C. A., Huguenard, J. R. 2013; 110 (50): 20278-20283


    Emerging evidence indicates that diazepam-binding inhibitor (DBI) mediates an endogenous benzodiazepine-mimicking (endozepine) effect on synaptic inhibition in the thalamic reticular nucleus (nRT). Here we demonstrate that DBI peptide colocalizes with both astrocytic and neuronal markers in mouse nRT, and investigate the role of astrocytic function in endozepine modulation in this nucleus by testing the effects of the gliotoxin fluorocitrate (FC) on synaptic inhibition and endozepine signaling in the nRT using patch-clamp recordings. FC treatment reduced the effective inhibitory charge of GABAA receptor (GABAAR)-mediated spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents in WT mice, indicating that astrocytes enhance GABAAR responses in the nRT. This effect was abolished by both a point mutation that inhibits classical benzodiazepine binding to GABAARs containing the ?3 subunit (predominant in the nRT) and a chromosomal deletion that removes the Dbi gene. Thus, astrocytes are required for positive allosteric modulation via the ?3 subunit benzodiazepine-binding site by DBI peptide family endozepines. Outside-out sniffer patches pulled from neurons in the adjacent ventrobasal nucleus, which does not contain endozepines, show a potentiated response to laser photostimulation of caged GABA when placed in the nRT. FC treatment blocked the nRT-dependent potentiation of this response, as did the benzodiazepine site antagonist flumazenil. When sniffer patches were placed in the ventrobasal nucleus, however, subsequent treatment with FC led to potentiation of the uncaged GABA response, suggesting nucleus-specific roles for thalamic astrocytes in regulating inhibition. Taken together, these results suggest that astrocytes are required for endozepine actions in the nRT, and as such can be positive modulators of synaptic inhibition.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1318031110

    View details for Web of Science ID 000328061700072

    View details for PubMedID 24262146

  • Sniffer patch laser uncaging response (SPLURgE): an assay of regional differences in allosteric receptor modulation and neurotransmitter clearance JOURNAL OF NEUROPHYSIOLOGY Christian, C. A., Huguenard, J. R. 2013; 110 (7): 1722-1731


    Allosteric modulators exert actions on neurotransmitter receptors by positively or negatively altering the effective response of these receptors to their respective neurotransmitter. ?-aminobutyric acid (GABA) type-A ionotropic receptors (GABAARs) are major targets for allosteric modulators such as benzodiazepines, neurosteroids, and barbiturates. Analysis of substances that produce similar effects has been hampered by the lack of techniques to assess the localization and function of such agents in brain slices. Here we describe measurement of the Sniffer Patch Laser Uncaging REsponse (SPLURgE), which combines the sniffer patch recording configuration with laser photolysis of caged GABA. This methodology enables the detection of allosteric GABAAR modulators endogenously present in discrete areas of the brain slice, and allows for the application of exogenous GABA with spatiotemporal control without altering the release and localization of endogenous modulators within the slice. Here we demonstrate the development and use of this technique for the measurement of allosteric modulation in different areas of the thalamus. Application of this technique will be useful in determining whether a lack of modulatory effect on a particular category of neurons or receptors is due to insensitivity to allosteric modulation or a lack of local release of endogenous ligand. We also demonstrate that this technique can be used to investigate GABA diffusion and uptake. This method thus provides a biosensor assay for rapid detection of endogenous GABAAR modulators, and has the potential to aid studies of allosteric modulators that exert effects on other classes of neurotransmitter receptors, such as glutamate, acetylcholine, or glycine receptors.

    View details for DOI 10.1152/jn.00319.2013

    View details for Web of Science ID 000325346300023

    View details for PubMedID 23843428

  • Endogenous Positive Allosteric Modulation of GABA(A) Receptors by Diazepam binding inhibitor NEURON Christian, C. A., Herbert, A. G., Holt, R. L., Peng, K., Sherwood, K. D., Pangratz-Fuehrer, S., Rudolph, U., Huguenard, J. R. 2013; 78 (6): 1063-1074


    Benzodiazepines (BZs) allosterically modulate ?-aminobutyric acid type-A receptors (GABAARs) to increase inhibitory synaptic strength. Diazepam binding inhibitor (DBI) protein is a BZ site ligand expressed endogenously in the brain, but functional evidence for BZ-mimicking positive modulatory actions has been elusive. We demonstrate an endogenous potentiation of GABAergic synaptic transmission and responses to GABA uncaging in the thalamic reticular nucleus (nRT) that is absent in both nm1054 mice, in which the Dbi gene is deleted, and mice in which BZ binding to ?3 subunit-containing GABAARs is disrupted. Viral transduction of DBI into nRT is sufficient to rescue the endogenous potentiation of GABAergic transmission in nm1054 mice. Both mutations enhance thalamocortical spike-and-wave discharges characteristic of absence epilepsy. Together, these results indicate that DBI mediates endogenous nucleus-specific BZ-mimicking ("endozepine") roles to modulate nRT function and suppress thalamocortical oscillations. Enhanced DBI signaling might serve as a therapy for epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.04.026

    View details for Web of Science ID 000321026900012

    View details for PubMedID 23727119

  • The Neurobiology of Preovulatory and Estradiol-Induced Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Surges ENDOCRINE REVIEWS Christian, C. A., Moenter, S. M. 2010; 31 (4): 544-577


    Ovarian steroids normally exert homeostatic negative feedback on GnRH release. During sustained exposure to elevated estradiol in the late follicular phase of the reproductive cycle, however, the feedback action of estradiol switches to positive, inducing a surge of GnRH release from the brain, which signals the pituitary LH surge that triggers ovulation. In rodents, this switch appears dependent on a circadian signal that times the surge to a specific time of day (e.g., late afternoon in nocturnal species). Although the precise nature of this daily signal and the mechanism of the switch from negative to positive feedback have remained elusive, work in the past decade has provided much insight into the role of circadian/diurnal and estradiol-dependent signals in GnRH/LH surge regulation and timing. Here we review the current knowledge of the neurobiology of the GnRH surge, in particular the actions of estradiol on GnRH neurons and their synaptic afferents, the regulation of GnRH neurons by fast synaptic transmission mediated by the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate, and the host of excitatory and inhibitory neuromodulators including kisspeptin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, catecholamines, neurokinin B, and RFamide-related peptides, that appear essential for GnRH surge regulation, and ultimately ovulation and fertility.

    View details for DOI 10.1210/er.2009-0023

    View details for Web of Science ID 000280689200004

    View details for PubMedID 20237240

  • Focal Cortical Infarcts Alter Intrinsic Excitability and Synaptic Excitation in the Reticular Thalamic Nucleus JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Paz, J. T., Christian, C. A., Parada, I., Prince, D. A., Huguenard, J. R. 2010; 30 (15): 5465-5479


    Focal cortical injuries result in death of cortical neurons and their efferents and ultimately in death or damage of thalamocortical relay (TCR) neurons that project to the affected cortical area. Neurons of the inhibitory reticular thalamic nucleus (nRT) receive excitatory inputs from corticothalamic and thalamocortical axons and are thus denervated by such injuries, yet nRT cells generally survive these insults to a greater degree than TCR cells. nRT cells inhibit TCR cells, regulate thalamocortical transmission, and generate cerebral rhythms including those involved in thalamocortical epilepsies. The survival and reorganization of nRT after cortical injury would determine recovery of thalamocortical circuits after injury. However, the physiological properties and connectivity of the survivors remain unknown. To study possible alterations in nRT neurons, we used the rat photothrombosis model of cortical stroke. Using in vitro patch-clamp recordings at various times after the photothrombotic injury, we show that localized strokes in the somatosensory cortex induce long-term reductions in intrinsic excitability and evoked synaptic excitation of nRT cells by the end of the first week after the injury. We find that nRT neurons in injured rats show (1) decreased membrane input resistance, (2) reduced low-threshold calcium burst responses, and (3) weaker evoked excitatory synaptic responses. Such alterations in nRT cellular excitability could lead to loss of nRT-mediated inhibition in relay nuclei, increased output of surviving TCR cells, and enhanced thalamocortical excitation, which may facilitate recovery of thalamic and cortical sensory circuits. In addition, such changes could be maladaptive, leading to injury-induced epilepsy.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5083-09.2010

    View details for Web of Science ID 000276685100033

    View details for PubMedID 20392967

  • Estradiol Suppresses Glutamatergic Transmission to Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neurons in a Model of Negative Feedback in Mice BIOLOGY OF REPRODUCTION Christian, C. A., Pielecka-Fortuna, J., Moenter, S. M. 2009; 80 (6): 1128-1135


    A surge of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) release from the brain triggers the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge that causes ovulation. The GnRH surge is initiated by a switch in estradiol action from negative to positive feedback. Estradiol signals critical for the surge are likely transmitted to GnRH neurons at least in part via estradiol-sensitive afferents. Using an ovariectomized estradiol-treated (OVX+E) mouse model that exhibits daily LH surges, we examined changes in glutamate transmission to GnRH neurons during negative feedback and positive feedback. Spontaneous glutamatergic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) mediated by alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid/kainate receptors (AMPA/KA Rs) or N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) were recorded in GnRH neurons from OVX+E and OVX mice. There were no diurnal changes in the percentage of GnRH neurons from OVX mice exhibiting EPSCs. In cells from OVX+E mice, the profile of AMPA/KA R-mediated and NMDAR-mediated EPSCs showed changes dependent on time of day. Comparison of AMPA/KA R-mediated EPSC frequency in OVX+E and OVX cells showed that estradiol suppressed transmission during negative feedback but had no effect during positive feedback. Tetrodotoxin treatment to block action potential firing did not affect AMPA/KA R-mediated EPSC frequency in OVX cells during negative feedback or in OVX+E cells during positive feedback, suggesting that estradiol-induced suppression of glutamate transmission may be primarily due to activity-independent changes. The diurnal removal of estradiol-induced suppression of AMPA/KA R-mediated glutamate transmission to GnRH neurons during positive feedback suggests that the primary role for estradiol-induced changes in glutamate transmission may be in mediating negative feedback.

    View details for DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.108.075077

    View details for Web of Science ID 000266247300007

    View details for PubMedID 19176881

  • Neurobiological Mechanisms Underlying Oestradiol Negative and Positive Feedback Regulation of Gonadotrophin-Releasing Hormone Neurones JOURNAL OF NEUROENDOCRINOLOGY Moenter, S. M., Chu, Z., Christian, C. A. 2009; 21 (4): 327-333


    The feedback actions of ovarian oestradiol during the female reproductive cycle are among the most unique in physiology. During most of the cycle, oestradiol exerts homeostatic, negative feedback upon the release of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Upon exposure to sustained elevated oestradiol levels, however, there is a switch in the feedback effects of this hormone to positive, resulting in induction of a surge in the release of GnRH that serves as a neuroendocrine signal to initiate the ovulatory cascade. We review recent developments stemming from studies in an animal model exhibiting daily switches between positive and negative feedback that have probed the neurobiological mechanisms, including changes in neural networks and intrinsic properties of GnRH neurones, underlying this switch in oestradiol action.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2009.01826.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000264635700017

    View details for PubMedID 19207821

  • Critical Roles for Fast Synaptic Transmission in Mediating Estradiol Negative and Positive Feedback in the Neural Control of Ovulation ENDOCRINOLOGY Christian, C. A., Moenter, S. M. 2008; 149 (11): 5500-5508


    A switch in the balance of estradiol feedback actions from negative to positive initiates the GnRH surge, triggering the LH surge that causes ovulation. Using an ovariectomized, estradiol-treated (OVX+E) mouse model that exhibits daily switches between negative in the morning and positive feedback in the evening, we investigated the roles of fast synaptic transmission in regulating GnRH neuron firing during negative and positive feedback. Targeted extracellular recordings were used to monitor activity of GnRH neurons from OVX+E and OVX mice in control solution or solution with antagonists to both ionotropic glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (blockade). Blockade had no effect on activity of OVX cells. In contrast, in OVX+E cells in the morning, blockade increased activity compared with control cells, whereas in the evening, blockade decreased activity. In vivo barbiturate sedation of OVX+E mice that blocked LH surge induction prevented the in vitro evening changes in firing rate and response to blockade. These observations suggest at least partial inversion of the negative-to-positive switch in estradiol feedback action and indicate that changes in fast synaptic transmission to GnRH neurons and within the network of cells presynaptic to GnRH neurons are critical for mediating estradiol negative and positive feedback actions on GnRH neurons. Fast synaptic transmission may also affect GnRH neuron activity indirectly through altering release of excitatory and inhibitory neuromodulators onto GnRH neurons at specific times of day. Fast synaptic transmission is thus critical for proper generation and timing of the GnRH surge.

    View details for DOI 10.1210/en.2008-0453

    View details for Web of Science ID 000260194000021

    View details for PubMedID 18617615

  • Classical Estrogen Receptor alpha Signaling Mediates Negative and Positive Feedback on Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neuron Firing ENDOCRINOLOGY Christian, C. A., Glidewell-Kenney, C., Jameson, J. L., Moenter, S. M. 2008; 149 (11): 5328-5334


    During the female reproductive cycle, the neuroendocrine action of estradiol switches from negative feedback to positive feedback to initiate the preovulatory GnRH and subsequent LH surges. Estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha) is required for both estradiol negative and positive feedback regulation of LH. ERalpha may signal through estrogen response elements (EREs) in DNA and/or via ERE-independent pathways. Previously, a knock-in mutant allele (ERalpha-/AA) that selectively restores ERE-independent signaling onto the ERalpha-/- background was shown to confer partial negative but not positive estradiol feedback on serum LH. The current study investigated the roles of the ERE-dependent and ERE-independent ERalpha pathways for estradiol feedback at the level of GnRH neuron firing activity. The above ERalpha genetic models were crossed with GnRH-green fluorescent protein mice to enable identification of GnRH neurons in brain slices. Targeted extracellular recordings were used to monitor GnRH neuron firing activity using an ovariectomized, estradiol-treated mouse model that exhibits diurnal switches between negative and positive feedback. In wild-type mice, GnRH neuron firing decreased in response to estradiol during negative feedback and increased during positive feedback. In contrast, both positive and negative responses to estradiol were absent in GnRH neurons from ERalpha-/- and ERalpha-/AA mice. ERE-dependent signaling is thus required to increase GnRH neuron firing to generate a GnRH/LH surge. Furthermore, ERE-dependent and -independent ERalpha signaling pathways both appear necessary to mediate estradiol negative feedback on serum LH levels, suggesting central and pituitary estradiol feedback may use different combinations of ERalpha signaling pathways.

    View details for DOI 10.1210/en.2008-0520

    View details for Web of Science ID 000260194000002

    View details for PubMedID 18635656

  • Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide can excite gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons in a manner dependent on estradiol and gated by time of day ENDOCRINOLOGY Christian, C. A., Moenter, S. M. 2008; 149 (6): 3130-3136


    A surge of GnRH release signals the LH surge that triggers ovulation. The GnRH surge is dependent on a switch in estradiol feedback from negative to positive and, in rodents, a daily neural signal, likely from the suprachiasmatic nuclei. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) may be involved in suprachiasmatic nuclei-GnRH neuron communication. Here we assessed the effects of acute VIP (5 min treatment) on GnRH neuron function using targeted extracellular recordings of firing activity of GnRH neurons in brain slices. We examined the effect of VIP on firing rate at different times of day using an established ovariectomized, estradiol-treated (OVX+E) mouse model that exhibits daily LH surges timed to the late afternoon. Cells from OVX animals (no estradiol) did not respond to VIP, regardless of time of day. With estradiol, the effect of VIP on GnRH neurons was dependent on the time of recording. During negative feedback, OVX+E cells did not respond. VIP increased firing in cells recorded during surge onset, but this excitatory response was reduced at surge peak. Acute treatment of OVX+E cells during surge peak with a VIP receptor antagonist decreased GnRH neuron firing. This suggests endogenous VIP may both increase GnRH neuron firing during the surge and occlude response to exogenous VIP. These data provide functional evidence for VIP effects on GnRH neurons and indicate that both estradiol and time of day gate the GnRH neuron response to this peptide. VIP may provide an excitatory signal from the circadian clock that helps time the GnRH surge.

    View details for DOI 10.1210/en.2007-1098

    View details for Web of Science ID 000256053100051

    View details for PubMedID 18326000

  • Estradiol induces diurnal shifts in GABA transmission to gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons to provide a neural signal for ovulation JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Christian, C. A., Moenter, S. M. 2007; 27 (8): 1913-1921


    Ovulation is initiated by a surge of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion by the brain. GnRH is normally under negative feedback control by ovarian steroids. During sustained exposure to estradiol in the late follicular phase of the reproductive cycle, however, the feedback action of this steroid switches to positive, inducing the surge. Here, we used an established ovariectomized, estradiol-treated (OVX+E) mouse model exhibiting daily surges to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this switch. Specifically, we examined changes in GABA transmission to GnRH neurons, which can be excited by GABA(A) receptor activation. Spontaneous GABAergic postsynaptic currents (PSCs) were recorded in GnRH neurons from OVX+E and OVX mice in coronal and sagittal slices. There were no diurnal changes in PSC frequency in cells from OVX mice in either slice orientation. In OVX+E cells in both orientations, PSC frequency was low during negative feedback but increased at surge onset. During the surge peak, this increase subsided in coronal slices but persisted in sagittal slices. Comparison of PSCs before and during tetrodotoxin (TTX) treatment showed TTX decreased PSC frequency in OVX+E cells in sagittal slices, but not coronal slices. This indicates estradiol acts on multiple GABAergic afferent populations to increase transmission through both activity-dependent and -independent mechanisms. Estradiol also increased PSC amplitude during the surge. Estradiol and the diurnal cycle thus interact to induce shifts in both GABA transmission and postsynaptic response that would produce appropriate changes in GnRH neuron firing activity and hormone release.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4737-06.2007

    View details for Web of Science ID 000244381400012

    View details for PubMedID 17314287

  • Diurnal and estradiol-dependent changes in gonadotropin-releasing hormone neuron firing activity PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Christian, C. A., Mobley, J. L., Moenter, S. M. 2005; 102 (43): 15682-15687


    A robust gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) surge is a prerequisite signal for the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge that triggers ovulation. In rodents, the GnRH surge is initiated by elevated estradiol and a diurnal switch in estrogen action from negative to positive feedback. The ability of constant estradiol treatment to induce daily LH surges was tested in adult mice that were ovariectomized (OVX) or OVX and treated with estradiol implants (OVX+E). LH in OVX mice showed no time-of-day difference. In contrast, OVX+E mice showed a large LH surge (8- to 124-fold relative to the a.m.) in p.m. samples on d 2-5 post-OVX+E. Targeted extracellular recordings were used to examine changes in firing activity of GnRH neurons in brain slices. There was no time-of-day difference in cells from OVX mice. In contrast, OVX+E cells recorded in the p.m. showed an increased mean firing rate and instantaneous firing frequency, which could increase GnRH release, and decreased duration of quiescence between bouts of firing, possibly reflecting increased pulse frequency, compared with cells recorded in the a.m. In the a.m., OVX+E cells showed changes in GnRH neuron firing reflecting negative feedback compared with OVX cells, whereas in the p.m., OVX+E cells exhibited changes suggesting positive feedback. These data indicate that differences in pattern and level of individual GnRH neuron firing may reflect the switch in estradiol action and underlie GnRH surge generation. The persistence of altered GnRH neuron activity in slices indicates that this approach can be used to study the neurobiological mechanisms of surge generation.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0504270102

    View details for Web of Science ID 000232929400074

    View details for PubMedID 16230634

  • Three days of novel wheel access diminishes light-induced phase delays in vivo with no effect on per1 induction by light CHRONOBIOLOGY INTERNATIONAL Christian, C. A., Harrington, M. E. 2002; 19 (4): 671-682


    The mammalian circadian clock, located in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei, synchronizes endogenous behavioral and physiological rhythms to a 24 h period through responses to two types of stimuli: photic (light) and nonphotic (behaviorally induced arousal and/or increases in activity). Photic stimuli can block nonphotic effects and vice versa, although the mechanisms and levels of interactions between these two stimuli types are unknown. Here, we investigated whether 3 d of access to a novel running wheel alters the phase shift to light in vivo, and whether this effect could be seen on induction by light of the circadian gene per1. Through measurement of running wheel activity of golden hamsters, access to a new wheel for 3 d was shown to diminish photic phase delays with no effect on phase advances. As seen using in situ hybridization, however, there was no effect on levels of light-induced per1 mRNA. This study indicates a possible role for this paradigm as a model of interactions between photic and nonphotic stimuli.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000177306200002

    View details for PubMedID 12182495

Footer Links:

Stanford Medicine Resources: