Faculty Profile

  • Yvonne M. Ulrich-Lai , PhD
  • Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience
  • 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:

  • B.S.: Harvey Mudd College, 1994
  • Doctoral: University of Minnesota, 2002
  • Post-Doctoral Fellowship: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 2007

Peer Reviewed Publications (in chronological order):

  • 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., 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.
  • 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., 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:

  • K01 DK078906 NIH NIDDK. Palatable food, reward, and stress The purpose of this project is to determine how the rewarding properties of palatable food decrease stress responses. - Grant, PI, Active.
  • R03 DK089018 NIH NIDDK. Palatable food and synaptic plasticity The purpose of this project is to expand upon the existing K01 award to investigate whether palatable food intake causes indices of synaptic plasticity in the brain. - Grant, PI, Active.
  • R01 DK091425 NIH NIDDK. Food Reward and Stress The purpose of this project is to determine whether pCREB-mediated synaptic plasticity in the basolateral amygdala mediates stress relief by palatable foods. - Grant, PI, Active.
  • 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.

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