Texas Tech University

Breanna N. Harris

Research Assistant Professor

Email: breanna.n.harris@ttu.edu

Phone: 1(806)834-6307

  • Ph.D., Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology.University of California, Riverside (2007-2012)
  • B.S., Marine Biology. Ohio University (2001-2005)


Dr. Harris

Research Interests

Very broadly, I am interested in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and how it functions in both basal and post-stress scenarios.  The HPA axis is a highly conserved neuroendocrine system and its hormonal end products, the glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol and corticosterone), play an important role in many physiological and behavior processes (e.g., reproductive physiology and behavior, immune response and inflammation, energy metabolism and partitioning, memory and cognition, cardiac function, etc.). Additionally, many human diseases and psychopathologies (e.g., major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, anorexia nervosa) present with HPA axis dysregulation for unknown reasons and by unknown mechanisms.

My prior work at UCR focused on the role stress and the HPA axis play in the trade-off between current vs. future reproduction in the monogamous California mouse (Peromyscus californicus).  Traditionally, stress is hypothesized to promote future reproduction at the cost of a current reproductive bout. In light of this, I addressed and the bi-directional interaction between the HPA axis and fatherhood by asking 1) does being a father alter HPA axis activity and reactivity, and 2) does stress and HPA axis activation alter paternal behavior.  Additionally, because older individuals should theoretically invest more in reproduction as compared to younger individuals, I investigated the effect of age on HPA axis function.

In addition to trade-offs, I am also interested in how variation in HPA axis activity (basal function) and reactivity (post-stress response) impacts organisms. Traditionally, HPA axis function is assessed by measuring concentrations of hormones (e.g., cortisol, corticosterone) in the blood, saliva, urine or feces; however, glucocorticoid action and HPA axis function is modulated by binding proteins (e.g., CBG), intracellular enzymes (e.g., 11-beta HSD), receptor number, type  and density, and by interactions with other hormones (e.g., the reproductive axis).  Function of the HPA axis relies on multiple levels of regulation and feedback, and variation at any level can alter behavioral or physiological processes resulting in functional consequences for an organism. Along with Drs. Carr (biology) and Littlefield (psychology), I am currently investigating how allostatic load (a measure of cumulative stress) and polymorphisms in stress-associated genes impact cognitive function and onset of mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease) in a human population

Courses Taught

  • Biology 4301-D79: Human Reproduction and Sexual Behavior, online (Summer I 2015)
  • Biology 4301-079: Peer Mentoring in Human Physiology (Fall, 2015)
  • Zoology 2404: Anatomy and Physiology II (Spring & Fall, 2015)
  • Biology 4301-079: Human Reproduction and Sexual Behavior (Spring, 2014; Summer I 2015)
  • Biology 4301-079: Brain, Behavior and Hormones (Fall, 2014)

Selected Publications

*undergraduate author
  1. Saltzman, W., Harris, B.N ., de Jong, T.R., Nguyen, P.P.*, Cho,
    J.T.*, Hernandez, M.*, Perea-Rodriguez, J.P. 2015. Effects of parental status on
    male body mass in the monogamous, biparental California mouse ( Peromyscus
    ). Journal of Zoology. 296, 23-29.
  2. Harris, B.N., de Jong, T.R., Yang, V.*, and Saltzman, W. (2013). Chronic variable stress in fathers Alters paternal and social behavior but not pup development in the biparental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus). Hormones and Behavior,64, 799-811.
  3. de Jong, T.R., Harris, B.N., Perea-Rodriguez, J.P., Saltzman, W. (2013). Physiological and neuroendocrine responses to chronic variable stress in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus): influence of social environment and paternal state. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38, 2023-2033. 
  4. Harris, B.N. and Saltzman, W. (2013). Effect of reproductive status on HPA activity and reactivity in male California mice (Peromyscus californicus). Physiology and Behavior, 112-113, 70-76.
  5. Harris, B.N. and Saltzman, W. (2013). Effects of age on HPA activity and reactivity in male and female California mice (Peromyscus californicus). General and Comparative Endocrinology, 186, 41-49.
  6. Harris, B.N., Saltzman, W., de Jong, T.R., Milnes, M.R. (2012). HPA function in the California Mouse (Peromyscus californicus): Changes in baseline activity, reactivity, and fecal excretion of corticosterone across the diurnal cycle. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 179, 436-450.
  7. Dlugosz, E.M., Harris, B.N., Saltzman, W., Chappell, M.A. (2012). Glucocorticoids, aerobic physiology, and locomotor behavior in California Mice. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 85, 671-683. 
  8. de Jong, T.R., Korosi, A., Harris, B.N., Perea-Rodriguez, J.P., Saltzman, W. (2012). Individual variation in paternal responses of virgin California mice (Peromyscus californicus): behavioral and physiological correlates. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology,85, 740-751.
  9. Harris, B.N., Perea-Rodriguez, J.P., Saltzman, W. (2011). Acute effects of corticosterone injection on paternal behavior in California mouse (Peromyscus californicus) fathers. Hormones and Behavior, 60, 666-675.
  10. de Jong, T.R., Measor, K.R., Chauke, M., Harris, B.N., Saltzman, W. (2010). Brief pup exposure induces Fos expression in the lateral habenula and serotonergic caudal dorsal raphe nucleus of paternally experienced male California mice (Peromyscus californicus). Neuroscience, 169, 1094-1104.
  11. Blumstein, D.T., Ebensperger, L.A., Hayes, L.D., Vásquez, R.A., Ahern, T.H., Burger, J.R., Dolezal, A.G., Dosmann, A., González-Mariscal, G., Harris, B.N., Herrera, E.A., Lacey, E.A., Mateo, J., McGraw, L., Olazábal, D., Ramenofsky, M., Rubenstein, D.R., Sakhai, S.A., Saltzman, W., Sainz-Borgo. C., Soto-Gamboa, M., Stewart, M.L., Wey, T.W., Wingfield, J.C., Young, L.T. (2010). Towards an integrative understanding of social behavior: new models and new opportunities. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 4, 1-9.
  12. Dowd, W.W., Harris, B.N., Cech Jr., J.J., Kultz, D. (2010). Proteomic and physiological responses of leopard sharks Triakis semifasciata to salinity change. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 210-224.
  13. de Jong, T.R., Chauke, M., Harris, B.N., Saltzman, W. (2009). From here to paternity: Neural correlates of the onset of paternal behavior in California mice (Peromyscus californicus). Hormones and Behavior, 56, 220-231.
  14. Harris, B., Sulkin, S. (2005). Significance of feeding to the development of postlarval megalopae in the free-living crabs Lophopanopeus bellus and commensal crab Fabia subquadrata. Marine Ecology Progress Series291, 169-175.

Other Publications

Harris, B ., Gray, B. Volcano smoke and mirrors: Tricks for a successful science fair project.  Lubbock Avalanche Journal, Lubbock online , November 2, 2014.

Harris, B.N ., Carr, J.A. I Heart Running: A case study of tachycardia in Sam the runner. NSF National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, In-press .

Harris, B.N. Endocrinology Internship: Living the Sweet Life. NSF National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, In-press .


Paul E. Duggan – TTU undergraduate student, Honor’s Arts & Letters. Honor’s Thesis title: Developing a Predator-Avoidance Assay in Xenopus laevis: A Potential Model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder .

Cody A. Tucker -- TTU undergraduate student, Cell and Molecular Biology, Honors, PRISM Program. Project Title:  “ Relationship among FKBP5 genotype, serum cortisol, and cognitive function in aging humans: a Project FRONTIER study .”

Department of Biological Sciences

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