UMass Amherst Professor to Discuss Food, Fat and Fertility in Distinguished Faculty Lecture

AMHERST, Mass. - "Food, Fat and Fertility" will be the focus of a Distinguished Faculty Lecture by University of Massachusetts psychology professor George Wade on Wed. Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. in Memorial Hall. The event is the fourth in this academic year’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture series, and is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the lecture.

Wade is a national leader in the field of behavioral endocrinology. He studies the phenomenon of nutritional infertility: why humans and other animals become infertile when they don’t consume enough calories. Using animal models, he has examined the effects of diet, body fat stores, and the hormone leptin on the neural circuits controlling sexual behaviors and hormone production.

The reciprocal relationship between nutrition and reproduction has been long noted, Wade says. When energy intake fails to keep pace with expenditure, fertility declines. Nutritional infertility can be seen among humans both in subsistence nations, in which food supplies may vary drastically from season to season, and in more prosperous countries, such as our own, where fertility problems may arise from eating disorders and endurance athletics.

Working with hamsters and rats, Wade has studied the effect of female sex hormones on both the physiology and behavior of his subjects: their energy balance, food intake, voluntary exercise, sexual behavior, and the size and location of their fat stores. His research includes exploration of how the brain knows when caloric intake is adequate so that it can trigger the production of the hormones required for ovulation and reproductive behaviors.

"Neuroendocrinology is exciting," he says, "because it examines the interactions between the body’s two great communications systems, hormones and nerve cells." Neuroendocrinologists examine how hormones affect both the brain and the behavior of animals. They also look at how the social and physical environment can affect an individual’s hormone production, and consequently, behavior.

Along with faculty colleagues, postdoctoral trainees, and graduate students, Wade has helped to establish the University of Massachusetts as a world center for the study of behavioral endocrinology. The author or co-author of more than 140 publications, he has received numerous research grants, and is currently supported by $3 million in grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Winner of two Senior Scientist Awards from the National Institute of Mental Health, he has also been named a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator by the National Institutes of Health.

A member of the UMass faculty since 1972, he has lectured at universities and conferences from the University of Cambridge to the University of California, Berkeley.