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Brittany Howell, Ph.D.

Brittany Howell, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Brittany Howell, Ph.D. headshot

“Our lab is focused on getting a comprehensive view of how mothers impact infant brain development. We want to understand how the mother’s health and behavior influence infant brain development so we can define what the brain needs to develop optimally."


Exploring healthy infant brain development

How can we improve mother-infant health outcomes?

Numerous studies have suggested that when expecting and new mothers are stressed, hormonal changes not only impact the mother’s health, but also affect the baby’s development. But unpacking these reports can be complicated. In addition to the genetic traits inherited from the baby’s parents, other factors, including epigenetic modifications occurring in utero or after birth, nutrition, feeding habits, sleep hygiene, home conditions, and mother-baby interactions, can all influence brain development during the first few months of life.

Brittany Howell, Ph.D., blends biological and behavioral analysis to capture a wide range of factors implicated in healthy human brain development. Her laboratory analyzes and compares breast milk composition, feeding habits, stress levels, fecal microbiology, social behavior, and brain imaging data. She studies gut-brain-behavior axis development, and the biological pathways of early experience and maternal influence on infant neurodevelopment. 

  • Assistant Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Science, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

B.R. Howell, M. Ahn, Y. Shi, J. Godfrey, X. Hu, H, Zhu, M.A. Styner, M. Sanchez. (2019) Disentangling the effects of early caregiving experience and heritable factors on brain white matter development in rhesus monkeys. NeuroImage.

B.R. Howell, M.A. Styner, W. Gao*, P.T. Yap, L. Wang, K. Baluyot, E. Yacoub*, G. Chen, T. Potts, A. Salzwedel, G. Li, J.H. Gilmore, J. Piven, J.K. Smith, D. Shen, K. Ugurbil, 6 Howell CV H. Zhu, W. Lin, J.T. Elison. (2018) The UNC/UMN Baby Connectome Project (BCP): An overview of the study design and protocol development. NeuroImage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.03.049

B.R. Howell, M. McMurray, D. Guzman, G. Nair, Y. Shi, K. McMormack, X. Hu, M. Styner, M. Sanchez (2016) Maternal buffering beyond glucocorticoids: impact of early life stress on corticolimbic circuits that control infant responses to novelty. Social Neuroscience. 12(1): 50- 64. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2016.1200481

University of Minnesota
Postdoctoral Scholar

Emory University
Postdoctoral Scholar

Emory University
Graduate Assistant, New Orleans Research Collaborative

  • Ph.D., Emory University, Neuroscience
  • 6th Annual Nutrition & Growth Meeting Abstract Award
  • Jacobs Foundation Conference Young Scholar, “Reconciling Genes and Contexts:
  • NIMH Institutional Postdoctoral NRSA Award


News about Brittany Howell, Ph.D.


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