(Jun 11, 2021) — Pursuing research in her field of behavioral neuroscience started more as a practical
matter for Ebony Glover, fueled by a healthy dose of curiosity. As a largely self-funded
undergraduate psychology major at Atlanta’s Spelman College, she jumped at the chance
to earn a stipend to participate in a series of research talks by high-profile neuroscientists.
After hearing one of them discuss a model of animals’ fear response to post-traumatic
stress — “fear- potentiated startle” in the scientific jargon — Glover said she was
“hooked.” “It was something about how he described fear as a biological construct
and not just a feeling or emotion.”
As associate professor of neuroscience in Kennesaw State’s Department of Psychological Science, Glover has followed the path from her undergrad courses in the brain and behavior
through a nearly 20-year research career. She conducted doctoral studies and research
in neuroscience and animal behavior at Emory University, post-doctoral research on
human subjects at Grady Hospital, and her most recent research into sex-linked biological
factors for women’s heightened risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Along the way, she has attracted more than $620,000 in funding for her research interests,
including teaching research to undergraduates and helping increase diversity among
researchers. She also has published more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.
Last fall, she received her most prestigious grant, a three-year, $406,000 R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institute
of Health to determine why women have such a disproportionate rate of PTSD and other anxiety
disorders — nearly two times the rate for men — and worst outcomes in treatment.
“I’ve been concerned about the mental health disparities related to sex and race in
general for some time,” Glover said. “I started this research to determine if there
was some biological mechanism at play in this disparity. When I started looking at
the literature, I discovered there was very little research examining the female brain.
Even the pre-clinical research on animals was almost exclusively done on male subjects.”
As she pursued understanding the roles of various neurochemicals in modulating fear
learning and memory in rats, a break came when she worked on post-doctoral research
at Grady Hospital with a team of neuroscientists from Emory University. They were
working to develop a way to translate the startle model for measuring response to
fear from animals to humans, using stimuli like a blast of air to the back of the
throat rather than electric shock. With this translational model, she and her colleagues
were able to study risk factors for developing PTSD in a “highly traumatized” clinical
sample of patients at Grady Hospital, where she began looking at sex as an important
biological determinant in PTSD, examining the impact of hormones like estrogen.
When she joined Kennesaw State’s faculty in 2014, Glover said she hoped to continue
her translational research in order to study the impact of additional hormones such
as progesterone and synthetic hormones found in contraceptives on the fear responses
in women with PTSD. However, a lack of space and access to a dedicated wet lab to
analyze hormone levels and other biological markers put her work on hold.
While the accommodations did not immediately meet her longer-term research goals,
Glover said the pause allowed her to focus on another passion: working with and training
undergraduate students in research. Using funds from the University’s Office of Research
and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, she trained students in collecting
and compiling physiological data for studies examining sex influences in regulating
emotions. Students worked with Glover collecting study participants’ arousal levels,
changes in in sweat gland activity, motor responses, startle reflex and other data.
Additional funding from the psychology department and the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences provided the research equipment and supplies Glover needed to set up a fear-potentiated
startle research model program at Kennesaw State in 2017, including the creation of
a behavioral isolation booth to do experimental training and conduct fear conditioning.
Through a collaboration with Sharon Pearcey, professor of psychology, and Doreen Wagner,
professor of nursing, and the Wellstar School of Nursing, Glover eventually realized
a dedicated office and research space to collect physiological data for a pilot program.
She also gained access to a wet lab in Wellstar College, where she, Wagner, and Pearcey
were able to analyze and measure biological markers in the brain.
Glover and her research team of collaborating faculty and dozens of student researchers
collected pilot data from nearly 200 participants over three academic semesters from
fall 2017 to fall 2019. The pilot data was used to support her current NIH grant.
Glover is already looking ahead to the potential of fear-motivated startle research
in understanding fear and anxiety response across racial lines and among populations
that have been traditionally understudied.
The implications of this research could be enormously helpful in understanding the
reactions of white police officers in confrontations with black male suspects and
issues related to policing and race, Glover noted. “We’re just not seeing very much
study of it in the neuroscientific literature,” she said. “I’ve been developing the
tools for empirical, objective measurement of these unconscious and innate responses.”
Researching areas where there are sex and racial differences and disparities in mental
health outcomes and where there are huge gaps in the research literature has been
very helpful in attracting students and diversity among researchers, Glover noted.
For her, inspiring underrepresented groups to pursue careers in science and to focus
on issues that disproportionately affect underrepresented groups and those that have
mental health disparities is the holy grail of research.
“It’s not so much the research itself,” she said. “It’s impacting aspiring researchers,
giving them agency to believe they can add something to the scientific literature
that will help the conditions that disproportionately affect women and racial minorities.”
– Sabbaye McGriff
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.