Dr Paula Brunton

Dr Brunton's biography and research focus, plus details of the Brunton Lab.

Dr Paula Brunton

Senior Lecturer (Edinburgh | Zhejiang)

Hugh Robson Building

15 George Square

Edinburgh EH8 9XD

Contact details

 Work: +44 (0)131 651 1507

 Email: p.j.brunton@ed.ac.uk


Personal profile

Current post

2018 - present: Senior Lecturer, Centre for Discovery Sciences, University of Edinburgh.

Previous posts

2015 - 2017: Group Leader and Senior Research Fellow (BBSRC), Division of Neurobiology, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh.

2010 - 2014: Career Track Fellow (BBSRC), Division of Neurobiology, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh.

2006 - 2010: Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (BBSRC), Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh.

2002 - 2006: Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (BBSRC), Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh.

2002:  Post-Doctoral Research Associate (Wellcome Trust), Psychiatry Research Laboratory, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Academic & Professional Qualifications

Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) (2020).

PhD, University of Edinburgh (2002).

BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh (1998).

Awards and Prizes

2013: The Luciano Martini Young Investigator in Neuroendocrinology Prize.

2005: The American Physiological Society Research Recognition Award 2005.

2005: Armin Ermisch Memorial Award.

Editorial Boards

Senior Editor, Journal of Neuroendocrinology (2017-present).

Senior Editor, Experimental Physiology (2015-2020).

Editorial Board Member, Journal of Neuroendocrinology (2012-2016).

Senior Guest Editor, Journal of Neuroendocrinology (2010-2011).

Research Theme

Signalling, Homeostasis and Energy Balance      

Synapses, Circuits and Behaviour  



It is widely accepted that an individual is shaped by a combination of nature and nurture. The implication is that the way in which an individual responds to stress is not solely a consequence of their genetic make-up; rather, it is defined by how their genes interact with their pre- and post-natal environment.

The perinatal period (the time before and after birth) is a time of marked neural plasticity; hence, brain development is susceptible to re-modelling. Adverse experiences in early life, such as stress exposure, can permanently ‘programme’ physiological systems and behaviours. Often this programming of the brain is maladaptive, increasing the susceptibility of the offspring to various diseases. 

Our research has demonstrated that maternal exposure to social stress during pregnancy is linked with low birth weight, anxious behaviour, hyperactive stress axis activity, insulin resistance, cognitive deficits and abnormal social and behaviours in the offspring. We investigate the mechanisms in the brain that underpin these changes and whether the impact of stress exposure during development can be prevented or reversed. 

Current projects are focused on understanding:

  • The central mechanisms involved in fetal programming of the brain and behaviour following prenatal stress exposure.
  • The mechanisms involved in transmission of maternal stress effects from the mother to the fetus.
  • The role of the gut microbiota in stress axis dysfunction and anxiety behaviour in prenatally stressed rats.
  • The short and long term impact of painful/stressful husbandry practices in early life in pigs (e.g. tail docking, tooth resection) on the brain and behaviour.


Lab Members 



Selected Publications 

  1. Scott H, Phillips TJ, Sze Y, Alfieri A, Rogers MF, Volpato V, Case CP, Brunton PJ (2020) Maternal antioxidant treatment prevents the adverse effects of prenatal stress on the offspring’s brain and behavior. Neurobiol Stress (in press). link
  2. Sze Y, Brunton PJ (2020) Sex, Stress and Steroids. Eur J Neurosci 52: 2487-2515. link
  3. Sze Y, Gill AC, Brunton PJ (2018) Sex-dependent changes in neuroactive steroid concentrations in the rat brain following acute swim stress. J Neuroendocrinol 30: e12644. link
  4. Grundwald NJ, Brunton PJ (2015) Prenatal stress programs neuroendocrine stress responses and affective behaviors in second generation rats in a sex-dependent manner. Psychoneuroendocrinology 62: 204-216. link
  5. Brunton PJ, Donadio MV, Yao ST, Greenwood MP, Seckl JR, Murphy D, Russell JA (2015) 5α-reduced neurosteroids sex-dependently reverse central prenatal programming of neuroendocrine stress responses in rats. J Neurosci 35: 666-677. link
  6. Klampfl SM, Brunton PJ, Bayerl DS, Bosch OJ (2014) Hypo-activation of CRF receptors, predominantly type 2, in the medial-posterior BNST is vital for adequate maternal behavior in lactating rats. J Neurosci 34: 9665-9676. link
  7. Maccari S, Krugers HJ, Morley-Fletcher S, Szyf M, Brunton PJ (2014) The consequences of early life adversity: neurobiological, behavioural and epigenetic adaptations. J Neuroendocrinol 26: 707-723. link
  8. Brunton PJ, Russell JA (2010) Prenatal social stress in the rat programmes neuroendocrine and behavioural responses to stress in the adult offspring: sex specific effects. J Neuroendocrinol 22: 258-271. link
  9. Brunton PJ, McKay AJ, Ochędalski T, Rębas E, Piastowska A, Lachowicz A, Russell JA(2009) Central opioid inhibition of neuroendocrine stress responses in pregnancy in the rat is induced by the neurosteroid allopregnanolone. J Neurosci 29: 6449-6460. link
  10. Brunton PJ, Russell JA (2008) The expectant brain: adapting for motherhood. Nat Rev Neurosci 9: 11-25. link



Information for students:

Willingness to discuss research projects with undergraduate and postgraduate students: YES - please click here