Faculty Profile

  • Yvonne Ulrich-Lai , PhD
  • Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Academic Location:
    Metabolic Diseases Insitute
    2170 East Galbraith Road
    Cincinnati, OH 45237-0506
  • Phone: (513) 558-6118
  • Email: yvonne.ulrich-lai@uc.edu

    Research/Clinical Interests:

  • The goal of my research program is to identify the neural and hormonal substrates that are responsible for the interactions among diet, obesity and stress.  Obesity is a major health problem affecting 30% of adults in the United States.  Despite public health efforts to combat obesity, it continues to rapidly increase in incidence, along with obesity-related diseases and health costs.  Similarly, stress-related psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety, affect large segments of the population and place a substantial toll on patients, families and communities.  Notably, there is a high co-morbidity between obesity/metabolic disorders and stress-related psychiatric disorders, supporting the idea that there are complex interactions among stress, obesity and diet.  For instance, stress generally increases the intake of palatable ‘comfort’ foods (which can promote obesity), and the ingestion of these foods improves mood and decreases emotional and behavioral responses to stress.  However, the mechanisms underlying these interactions are unknown, and they constitute the focus of my research.  For example, I am exploring how the consumption of ‘comfort’ foods alters the brain to confer both emotional and physiological stress relief.  Also, I am determining whether a ketogenic (e.g., Atkins-like) diet affects stress-coping, and if so, how these effects are mediated.  Lastly, I am exploring how stress alters the amount and type of food that individuals choose to eat.  By answering these questions, we can obtain a clearer understanding of the motivation to consume different types of foods.  Moreover, knowledge of the mechanisms of interaction among diet, obesity and stress may identify novel therapeutic targets for the prevention and treatment of obesity, as well as other stress-related disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse).  

    Education/Credentials:

  • Bachelor's Degree: Harvey Mudd College, 1994
  • Doctoral Degree: University of Minnesota, 2002
  • Post-Doctoral Fellowship: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 2007

Peer Reviewed Publications (in chronological order):

  • Sah, R., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2015). Introduction to the 2014 Neurobiology of Stress Special Issue. . Physiology & Behavior , 150 , 1.
  • Gutierrez-Aguilar, R., Thompson, A., Marchand, N., Dumont, P., Woods, S. C., de Launoit, Y., Seeley, R. J., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2015). The obesity-associated transcription factor ETV5 modulates circulating glucocorticoids. . Physiology & Behavior , 150 , 38-42.
  • Egan, A. E., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2015). Activation of physiological stress responses by a natural reward: Novel vs. repeated sucrose intake. . Physiology & Behavior , 150 , 43-52.
  • Thompson, A. K., Fourman, S., Packard, A. E. B., Egan, A. E., Ryan, K. K., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2015). Metabolic consequences of chronic intermittent mild stress exposure. . Physiology & Behavior , 150 , 24-30.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Fulton, S., Wilson, M., Petrovich, G., & Rinaman, L. (2015). Stress exposure, food intake and emotional state. . Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) , 1-19.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Fulton, S., Wilson, M., Petrovich, G., & Rinaman, L. (2015). Stress exposure, food intake and emotional state. . Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) , 1-19.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Christiansen, A. M., Wang, X., Song, S., & Herman, J. P. (2015). Statistical modeling implicates neuroanatomical circuit mediating stress relief by 'comfort' food. . Brain Structure & Function.
  • Ressler, I. B., Grayson, B. E., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Seeley, R. J. (2015). Diet-induced obesity exacerbates metabolic and behavioral effects of polycystic ovary syndrome in a rodent model. . American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism , 308 (12) , E1076-84.
  • de Kloet, A. D., Krause, E. G., Solomon, M. B., Flak, J. N., Scott, K. A., Kim, D., Myers, B., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Woods, S. C., Seeley, R. J., & Herman, J. P. (2015). Adipocyte glucocorticoid receptors mediate fat-to-brain signaling. . Psychoneuroendocrinology , 56 , 110-9.
  • Bundzikova-Osacka, J., Ghosal, S., Packard, B. A., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2015). Role of nucleus of the solitary tract noradrenergic neurons in post-stress cardiovascular and hormonal control in male rats. . Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) , 18 (2) , 221-32.
  • Grayson, B. E., Hakala-Finch, A. P., Kekulawala, M., Laub, H., Egan, A. E., Ressler, I. B., Woods, S. C., Herman, J. P., Seeley, R. J., Benoit, S. C., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2014). Weight loss by calorie restriction versus bariatric surgery differentially regulates the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical axis in male rats. . Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) , 17 (6) , 484-93.
  • Packard, A. E. B., Ghosal, S., Herman, J. P., Woods, S. C., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2014). Chronic variable stress improves glucose tolerance in rats with sucrose-induced prediabetes. . Psychoneuroendocrinology , 47 , 178-88.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Ryan, K. K. (2014). Neuroendocrine circuits governing energy balance and stress regulation: functional overlap and therapeutic implications. . Cell Metabolism , 19 (6) , 910-25.
  • Ryan, K. K., Mul, J. D., Clemmensen, C., Egan, A. E., Begg, D. P., Halcomb, K., Seeley, R. J., Herman, J. P., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2014). Loss of melanocortin-4 receptor function attenuates HPA responses to psychological stress. . Psychoneuroendocrinology , 42 , 98-105.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Ryan, K. K. (2012). PPARgamma and stress: Implications for aging. . Experimental Gerontology.
  • Ziegler, D. R., Edwards, M. R., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Herman, J. P., & Cullinan, W. E. (2012). Brainstem origins of glutamatergic innervation of the rat hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. . The Journal of Comparative Neurology , 520 (11) , 2369-94.
  • Ryan, K. K., Grayson, B. E., Jones, K. R., Schneider, A. L., Woods, S. C., Seeley, R. J., Herman, J. P., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2012). Physiological responses to acute psychological stress are reduced by the PPARgamma agonist rosiglitazone. . Endocrinology , 153 (3) , 1279-87.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Jones, K. R., Ziegler, D. C., Cullinan, W. E., & Herman, J. P. (2011). Forebrain origins of glutamatergic innervation to the rat paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus: differential inputs to the anterior versus posterior subregions . Journal of Comparative Neurology , 519 (7) , 1301-1319.
  • Christiansen, A. M., Herman, J. P., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2011). Regulatory interactions of stress and reward on rat forebrain opioidergic and GABAergic circuitry . Stress , 14 (2) , 205-215.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Ostrander, M. M., & Herman, J. P. (2011). HPA axis dampening by limited sucrose intake: reward frequency vs. caloric consumption . Physiology & Behavior , 103 (1) , 104-110.
  • Christiansen, A. M., de Kloet, A. D., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2011). 'Snacking' causes long term attenuation of HPA axis stress responses and enhancement of brain FosB/deltaFosB expression in rats . Physiology & Behavior , 103 (1) , 111-116.
  • Krause, E. G., de Kloet, A. D., Scott, K. A., Flak, J. N., Jones, K., Smeltzer, M. D., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Woods, S. C., Wilson, S. P., Reagan, L. P., Herman, J. P., & Sakai, R. R. (2011). Blood-borne angiotensin II acts in the brain to influence behavioral and endocrine responses to psychogenic stress . Journal of Neuroscience , 31 (42) , 15009-15015.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Jones, K. R., Ziegler, D. R., Cullinan, W. E., & Herman, J. P. (2011). Forebrain origins of glutamatergic innervation to the rat paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus: differential inputs to the anterior versus posterior subregions. . The Journal of Comparative Neurology , 519 (7) , 1301-19.
  • Christiansen, A. M., Dekloet, A. D., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2011). "Snacking" causes long term attenuation of HPA axis stress responses and enhancement of brain FosB/deltaFosB expression in rats. . Physiology & Behavior , 103 (1) , 111-6.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Ostrander, M. M., & Herman, J. P. (2011). HPA axis dampening by limited sucrose intake: reward frequency vs. caloric consumption. . Physiology & Behavior , 103 (1) , 104-10.
  • Christiansen, A. M., Herman, J. P., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2011). Regulatory interactions of stress and reward on rat forebrain opioidergic and GABAergic circuitry. . Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) , 14 (2) , 205-15.
  • Krause, E. G., de Kloet, A. D., Scott, K. A., Flak, J. N., Jones, K., Smeltzer, M. D., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Woods, S. C., Wilson, S. P., Reagan, L. P., Herman, J. P., & Sakai, R. R. (2011). Blood-borne angiotensin II acts in the brain to influence behavioral and endocrine responses to psychogenic stress. . The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society For Neuroscience , 31 (42) , 15009-15.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Christiansen, A. M., Ostrander, M. M., Jones, A. A., Jones, K. R., Choi, D. C., Krause, E. G., Evanson, N. K., Furay, A. R., Davis, J. F., Solomon, M. B., de Kloet, A. D., Tamashiro, K. L., Sakai, R. R., Seeley, R. J., Woods, S. C., & Herman, J. P. (2010). Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA , 107 (47) , 20529-20534.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Christiansen, A. M., Ostrander, M. M., Jones, A. A., Jones, K. R., Choi, D. C., Krause, E. G., Evanson, N. K., Furay, A. R., Davis, J. F., Solomon, M. B., de Kloet, A. D., Tamashiro, K. L., Sakai, R. R., Seeley, R. J., Woods, S. C., & Herman, J. P. (2010). Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways. . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , 107 (47) , 20529-34.
  • Ostrander, M. M., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Choi, D. C., Flak, J. N., Richtand, N. M., & Herman, J. P. (2009). Chronic stress produces enduring decreases in novel stress-evoked c-fos mRNA expression in discrete brain regions of the rat . Stress , 12 (6) , 469-477.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2009). Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses . Nature Reviews: Neuroscience , 10 (6) , 397-409.
  • Choi, D. C., Furay, A. R., Evanson, N. K., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Nguyen, M. M. N., Ostrander, M. M., & Herman, J. P. (2008). The role of the posterior medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in modulating hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis responsiveness to acute and chronic stress . Psychoneuroendocrinology , 33 (5) , 659-669.
  • Choi, D. C., Evanson, N. K., Furay, A. R., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Ostrander, M. M., & Herman, J. P. (2008). The anteroventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis differentially regulates hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis responses to acute and chronic stress . Endocrinology , 149 (2) , 818-826.
  • Figueiredo, H. F., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Choi, D. C., & Herman, J. P. (2007). Estrogen potentiates adrenocortical responses to stress in female rats . American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism , 292 (4) , E1173-1182.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Ostrander, M. M., Thomas, I. M., Packard, B. A., Furay, A. R., Dolgas, C. M., Van Hooren, D. C., Figueiredo, H. F., Mueller, N. K., Choi, D. C., & Herman, J. P. (2007). Daily limited access to sweetened drink attenuates hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis stress responses . Endocrinology , 148 (4) , 1823-1834.
  • Choi, D. C., Furay, A. R., Evanson, N. K., Ostrander, M. M., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Herman, J. P. (2007). Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis subregions differentially regulate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity: implications for the integration of limbic inputs . Journal of Neuroscience , 27 (8) , 2025-2034.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Figueiredo, H. F., Ostrander, M. M., Choi, D. C., Engeland, W. C., & Herman, J. P. (2006). Chronic stress induces adrenal hyperplasia and hypertrophy in a subregion-specific manner . American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism , 291 (5) , E965-973.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Xie, W. R., Meij, J. T. A., Dolgas, C. M., Yu, L., & Herman, J. P. (2006). Limbic and HPA axis function in an animal model of chronic neuropathic pain . Physiology & Behavior , 88 (1-2) , 67-76.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Arnhold, M. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2006). Adrenal splanchnic innervation contributes to the diurnal rhythm of plasma corticosterone in rats by modulating adrenal sensitivity to ACTH . American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology , 290 (4) , R1128-1135.
  • Ostrander, M. M., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Choi, D. C., Richtand, N. M., & Herman, J. P. (2006). Hypoactivity of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical axis during recovery from chronic variable stress . Endocrinology , 147 (4) , 2008-2017.
  • Vahl, T. P., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Ostrander, M. M., Dolgas, C. M., Elfers, E. E., Seeley, R. J., D'Alessio D A, & Herman, J. P. (2005). Comparative analysis of ACTH and corticosterone sampling methods in rats . American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism , 289 (5) , E823-828.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Fraticelli, A. I., & Engeland, W. C. (2003). Capsaicin-sensitive nerve fibers: a potential extra-ACTH mechanism participating in adrenal regeneration in rats . Microscopy Research and Technique , 61 (3) , 252-258.
  • Herman, J. P., Figueiredo, H., Mueller, N., Ulrich-Lai, Y., Ostrander, M. M., Choi, D. C., & Cullinan, W. E. (2003). Central mechanisms of stress integration: hierarchical circuitry controlling hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical responsiveness . Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology , 24 (3) , 151-180.
  • Beuschlein, F., Keegan, C. E., Bavers, D. L., Mutch, C., Hutz, J. E., Shah, S., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Engeland, W. C., Jeffs, B., Jameson, J. L., & Hammer, G. D. (2002). SF-1, DAX-1, and acd: molecular determinants of adrenocortical growth and steroidogenesis . Endocrine Research , 28 (4) , 597-607.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Marek, D. J., & Engeland, W. C. (2002). Capsaicin-sensitive adrenal sensory fibers participate in compensatory adrenal growth in rats . American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology , 283 (4) , R877-884.
  • Beuschlein, F., Mutch, C., Bavers, D. L., Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Engeland, W. C., Keegan, C., & Hammer, G. D. (2002). Steroidogenic factor-1 is essential for compensatory adrenal growth following unilateral adrenalectomy . Endocrinology , 143 (8) , 3122-3135.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2002). Adrenal splanchnic innervation modulates adrenal cortical responses to dehydration stress in rats . Neuroendocrinology , 76 (2) , 79-92.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Flores, C. M., Harding-Rose, C. A., Goodis, H. E., & Hargreaves, K. M. (2001). Capsaicin-evoked release of immunoreactive calcitonin gene-related peptide from rat trigeminal ganglion: evidence for intraganglionic neurotransmission . Pain , 91 (3) , 219-226.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Harding-Rose, C. A., Guo, A., Bowles, W. R., & Engeland, W. C. (2001). ACTH inhibits the capsaicin-evoked release of CGRP from rat adrenal afferent nerves . American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology , 280 (1) , R137-142.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2000). Rat adrenal transplants are reinnervated: an invalid model of denervated adrenal cortical tissue . Journal of Neuroendocrinology , 12 (9) , 881-893.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2000). Hyperinnervation during adrenal regeneration influences the rate of functional recovery . Neuroendocrinology , 71 (2) , 107-23.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2000). Neural modulation of regenerating adrenal transplants. . Endocrine Research , 26 (4) , 979-80.
  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., Hargreaves, K. M., & Flores, C. M. (1997). A comparison of multiple injections versus continuous infusion of nicotine for producing up-regulation of neuronal 3H-epibatidine binding sites . Neuropharmacology , 36 , 1119-1125.
  • Flores, C. M., Davila-Garcia M I, Ulrich Y M, & Kellar K J (1997). Differential regulation of neuronal nicotinic receptor binding sites following chronic nicotine administration . J Neurochem , 69 , 2216-2219.

Book Chapter:

  • Ulrich-Lai, Y. M., & Engeland, W. C. (2005). Sympatho-adrenal activity and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation In Stecker, T; Kalin, N; Reul, J M H M (Eds.) , Handbook on Stress, Immunology and Behavior (pp. 419 , 435). Amsterdam : Elsevier Science.
  • Herman, J. P., Figueiredo, H., Mueller, N. K., Ostrander, M. M., Zhang, R., Tauchi, M., Choi, D. C., Furay, A. R., Evanson, N. K., Nelson, E. B., & Ulrich-Lai, Y. M. (2007). Neurochemical systems regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis In Blaustein, J D (Eds.) , Behavioral Neurochemistry, Neuroendocrinology, and Molecular Neurobiology (pp. 513 , 569). Berlin : Springer.

    Research Grants:

  • 5-F32-DK-67820-02-A0-S0-E0 National Institute of Mental Health. Diet, Obesity and Stress, PI, Closed.
  • 1 K01 DK078906-01 National Inst of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Palatable Food, Reward and Stress, PI, Closed.
  • R03 DK089018 National Inst of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Palatable Food and Synaptic Plasticity, PI, Closed.
  • R01 DK091425 National Inst of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Food Reward and Stress, PI, Active.
  • URC Interdisciplinary awards AY2014-15 UC's University Research Council. Neuronal Network Discovery in ‘Comfort’ Food Model: A Bayesian Learning Approach, Collaborator, Active.

Recent Awards/Honors:

  • Early Investigators Award supported by Amgen, The Endocrine Society, 2012
Faculty Member
More Information

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience

Mailing Address:
PO Box 670559
Cincinnati, OH 45267-0559

Office Location:
Stetson Building
260 Stetson Street
Suite 3200
Cincinnati, OH 45219

Phone: (513) 558-7700
Email: donna.niemeier@uc.edu