Faculty Spotlight: Agnès Lacreuse

Research Area: Behavioral Neuroscience; Faculty page

​Agnès Lacreuse’s current research and teaching was influenced by her interest in animals and early wishes to be a veterinarian. Her academic life started with a concentration in biology, which expanded soon after to the subject of behavior. Lacreuse cites early professors for sparking her interest in animal behavior and primate cognition in particular. She adapted her curriculum to focus in this area, selecting a PhD program that would allow her to study primates. To this effect, she joined the laboratory of Professor Jacques Vauclair in Marseille, where she studied baboons. 

After earning her PhD, she came to the United States to start a postdoc position at the University of Georgia in Athens. She began working with Professor Dorothy Fragaszy, studying capuchins. After a couple of years there she moved to Atlanta, accepting a position in the laboratory of Professor James Herndon at the Yerkes Primate Center to study cognitive aging in rhesus macaques. It is under the tutelage of professor Herndon that Lacreuse developed her interest in the hormonal modulation of cognitive aging.

Lacreuse came to UMass in 2006, joining the Behavioral Neuroscience area of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Here she studies a small primate model of human aging, the marmoset, to understand how biological sex and sex hormones affect age-related cognitive decline. Lacreuse also studies the symptoms of menopause and how the loss of the hormone estrogen contributes to sleep disturbances, hot flashes, and cognitive impairment in women. She has recently received a new grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue her study of menopausal symptoms.

The wide-range of assessments Lacreuse performs include tests of cognitive function (using a CANTAB touch-screen), emotional reactivity, brain activity and motor function. Overall her work is highly translational, helping to advance our knowledge of diseases and health problems affecting humans. It could lead to better treatments for menopause and the cognitive decline associated with aging. New approaches to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease could also be found.

One of Lacreuse’s new interests is to find out whether the estrogens that are made in the brain are really what is important for cognitive aging. Until now, circulating estrogens produced by the ovaries were considered most important. Lacreuse thinks that estrogens that are made by the brain may have the greatest influence on brain functioning, especially as we age.

Through her scientific efforts she often finds new unexpected things about the abilities of animals. She says her work is very rewarding, and that the students absolutely love working with the animals. Lacreuse offers the following advice to young scientists, “Follow your passion no matter what. Often, we can be discouraged by one thing or the other but you need to persevere. Try your best and have no regrets.”