David Ashbrook, Assistant Professor, UTHSC

dashbrook at UTHSC.edu


My primary research interest is the brain, and its resultant behavioural phenotypes. I am intrigued by how genes and environment can interact, and how these interactions can be traced through a biological system to result in long term changes at the whole organism level, both in terms of complex behaviour and neuropsychiatric disorders. The ability to produce and share massive datasets is one of the most exciting advancements in modern science because it enables a comprehensive systems approach to fundamental biological questions.

Specifically, I am interested in how earlier experience (e.g. parental care, diet) can influence the reaction to later life events, and how this interacts with genetics.

I graduated in 2011 from the University of Leeds with a BSc in Neuroscience, which included a year spent on industrial placement at AstraZeneca. I carried out my PhD in Systems Biology at the University of Manchester‘s doctoral teaching centre with Dr Reinmar Hager, receiving my degree in December 2015. From January 2016 to September 2017 I was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the McGowan lab at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. From October 2017 – February 2020 I was a Postdoctoral Fellow with Robert W Williams within the Department of Genetics, Genomics and Informatics, at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Memphis. I am now a Assistant Professor in the same department.


  1. Sasani, T. A., Ashbrook, D. G., Beichman, A. C., Lu, L., Palmer, A. A., Williams, R. W., et al. (2022). A natural mutator allele shapes mutation spectrum variation in mice. Nature, 2021.03.12.435196. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04701-5.
  2. Chunduri, A., Watson, P. M., and Ashbrook, D. G. (2022). New insights on gene by environmental effects of drugs of abuse in animal models using GeneNetwork. Genes (Basel). 13, 614. doi:10.3390/genes13040614.
  3. Dietrich, P., Alli, S., Mulligan, M. K., Cox, R., Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., et al. (2022). Identification of cyclin D1 as a major modulator of 3-nitropropionic acid-induced striatal neurodegeneration. Neurobiology of disease, 162, 105581. doi:10.1016/j.nbd.2021.105581
  4. Roy, S., Sleiman, M. B., Jha, P., Ingels, J.F., Chapman, C.J.,…Ashbrook, D.G.,…Williams, R.W. (2021).  Gene-by-environmental modulation of lifespan and weight gain in the murine BXD family. Nature Metabolism, 3, 1217–1227. doi:10.1038/s42255-021-00449-w.
  5. Lauby, S. C., Ashbrook, D. G., Malik, H. R., Chatterjee, D., Pan, P., Fleming, A. S., et al. (2021). The role of interindividual licking received and dopamine genotype on later-life licking provisioning in female rat offspring. Brain and Behavior, e02069. doi:10.1002/brb3.2069.
  6. Ashbrook, D. G., Arends, D., Prins, P., Mulligan, M. K., Roy, S., Williams, E. G., et al. (2021). A platform for experimental precision medicine: The extended BXD mouse family. Cell Systems doi:10.1016/j.cels.2020.12.002
  7. Ashbrook, D. G., and Lu, L (2021) “Recombinant inbred mice as models for medicine and biology” in Animal Models in Medicine and Biology (IntechOpen), ed. E Purevjav (London), ISBN 978-1-83968-805-8. doi:10.5772/intechopen.96173
  8. Xu, F., Gao, J., Bergman, S., Sims, A. C., Ashbrook, D. G., Baric, R. S., et al. (2020). Genetic dissection of the regulatory mechanisms of Ace2 in the infected mouse lung. Frontiers Immunology doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.607314.
  9. Sandoval-Sierra, J. V., Helbing, A. H. B., Williams, E. G., Ashbrook, D. G., Roy, S., Williams, R. W., et al. (2020). Body weight and high-fat diet are associated with epigenetic aging in female members of the BXD murine family. Aging Cell, e13207. doi:10.1111/acel.13207
  10. Wang, N., Anderson, R. J., Ashbrook, D. G., Gopalakrishnan, V., Park, Y., Priebe, C. E., et al. (2020). Variability and heritability of mouse brain structure: Microscopic MRI atlases and connectomes for diverse strains. Neuroimage 222, 117274. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117274.
  11. Xu, F., Ashbrook, D. G., Gao, J., Starlard-Davenport, A., Zhao, W., Miller, D. B., et al. (2020). Genome-wide transcriptome architecture in a mouse model of Gulf War Illness. Brain Behav Immun. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2020.06.018.
  12. Jones, B. C., Miller, D. B., Lu, L., Zhao, W., Ashbrook, D. G., Xu, F., et al. (2020). Modeling the genetic basis of individual differences in susceptibility to Gulf War Illness. Brain Sci 10, 143. doi:10.3390/brainsci10030143.
  13. Ashbrook, D. G., Cahill, S., and Hager, R. (2019). A cross-species systems genetics analysis links APBB1IP as a candidate for schizophrenia and prepulse inhibition. Front Behav Neurosci 13, 266. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00266.
  14. Potter, H. G., Ashbrook, D. G., and Hager, R. (2018). Offspring genetic effects on maternal care. Front. Neuroendocrinol. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.12.004.
  15. Herrera, S., de Vega, W. C., Ashbrook, D. G., Vernon, S. D., and McGowan, P. O. (2018). Genome-epigenome interactions associated with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Epigenetics 13, 1174–1190. doi:10.1080/15592294.2018.1549769.
  16. Ashbrook, D. G., Roy, S., Clifford, B. G., Riede, T., Scattoni, M. L., Heck, D. H., et al. (2018). Born to Cry: A Genetic Dissection of Infant Vocalization. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 12, 250. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00250.
  17. Ashbrook, D. G., Hing, B., Michalovicz, L. T., Kelly, K. A., Miller, J. V, de Vega, W. C., et al. (2018). Epigenetic impacts of stress priming of the neuroinflammatory response to sarin surrogate in mice: a model of Gulf War illness. J. Neuroinflammation 15, 86. doi:10.1186/s12974-018-1113-9.
  18. Ashbrook, D. G., Mulligan, M. K., and Williams, R. W. (2017). Post-genomic behavioral genetics: From revolution to routine. Genes, Brain Behav., e12441. doi:10.1111/gbb.12441
  19. Ashbrook, D.G., Sharmin, N., Hager, R., 2017. Offspring genes indirectly influence sibling and maternal behavioural strategies over resource share. Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 284, 20171059. doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1059
  20. Ashbrook, D. G., and Hager, R. (2017). “Social interactions and indirect genetic effects on complex juvenile and adult traits” in Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), eds. K. Schughart and R. W. Williams (New York: Springer New York), 499–517. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-6427-7_24.
  21. Ashbrook, D. G., Gini, B., and Hager, R. (2015). Genetic variation in offspring indirectly influences the quality of maternal behaviour in mice. Elife 4. doi:10.7554/eLife.11814.
    • Won the University of Manchester Faculty of Life Sciences best publications
  22. Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., Lu, L., and Hager, R. (2015). A cross-species genetic analysis identifies candidate genes for mouse anxiety and human bipolar disorder. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 9, 171. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00171.
  23. Hibar, D. P., Stein, J. L., Renteria, M. E., Arias-Vasquez, A., Desrivières, S., Jahanshad, N., Toro, R., Wittfeld, K., Abramovic, L., Andersson, M.,…Ashbrook, D.G., Hager, R., et al. (2015). Common genetic variants influence human subcortical brain structures. Nature 520, 224–229. doi:10.1038/nature14101.
  24. Ashbrook, D. G., Delprato, A., Grellmann, C., Klein, M., Wetzel, R., Overall, R. W., and Badea, A. (2014). Transcript co-variance with Nestin in two mouse genetic reference populations identifies Lef1 as a novel candidate regulator of neural precursor cell proliferation in the adult hippocampus. Front. Neurosci. 8, 418. doi:10.3389/fnins.2014.00418.
  25. Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., Lu, L., Stein, J. L., Hibar, D. P., Nichols, T. E., Medland, S. E., Thompson, P. M., and Hager, R. (2014). Joint genetic analysis of hippocampal size in mouse and human identifies a novel gene linked to neurodegenerative disease. BMC Genomics 15, 850. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-850.
  26. Ashbrook, D. G., and Hager, R. (2013). Empirical testing of hypotheses about the evolution of genomic imprinting in mammals. Front. Neuroanat. 7, 6. doi:10.3389/fnana.2013.00006.

In preparation or submission

  1. Gunturkun, M. H., Villani, F., Colonna, V., Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., and Chen, H. (2021). SVJAM: Joint analysis of structural variants using linked read sequencing data. bioRxiv, 2021.11.02.467006. doi:10.1101/2021.11.02.467006.
  2. Watson, P. M., and Ashbrook, D. G. (2020). GeneNetwork: a continuously updated tool for systems genetics analyses. bioRxiv, 2020.12.23.424047. doi:10.1101/2020.12.23.424047.
  3. Lemen, P. M., Hatoum, A. S., Dickson, P. E., Mittleman, G., Agrawal, A., Reiner, B. C., et al. (2022). Opiate responses are controlled by interactions of Oprm1 and Fgf12 loci in the murine BXD family: Correspondence to human GWAS finding. bioRxiv, 2022.03.11.483993. doi:10.1101/2022.03.11.483993
  4. Maksimov, M., Ashbrook, D. G., Consortium, B. X. D. S., Villani, F., Colonna, V., Mousavi, N., et al. (2022). A novel quantitative trait locus implicates Msh3 in the propensity for genome-wide short tandem repeat expansions in mice. bioRxiv, 2022.03.02.482700. doi:10.1101/2022.03.02.482700.
  5. Ashbrook, D.G., Sasani, T., Maksimov, M., Gunturkun, M.H., Ma, N., Villani, F., Ren, Y., Rothschild, D., Chen, H., Lu, L., Colonna, V., Dumont, B.,  Harris, K., Gymrek, M., Pritchard, J.K., Palmer, A.A., Williams, R.W. (2022) Private and sub-family specific mutations of founder haplotypes in the BXD family reveal phenotypic consequences relevant to health and disease. bioRxiv, 2022.04.21.489063. doi: 10.1101/2022.04.21.489063
  6. Gill, K., Rajan Soundara Rajan, J., Chow, E., Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., Zwicker, J. G., Goldowitz, D. (2022). Developmental Coordination Disorder: What can we learn from recombinant inbred mice using motor learning tasks and quantitative trait locus analysis. bioRxiv, 2022.05.18.492177. doi:10.1101/2022.05.18.492177.
  7. Gill, K., Rajan Soundara Rajan, J., Chow, E., Ashbrook, D. G., Williams, R. W., Zwicker, J. G., Goldowitz, D. (in preparation). Investigating mouse motor coordination using quantitative trait locus analysis to model the genetic underpinnings of developmental coordination disorder. In preparation.
  8. Gu, Q., Orgil, B-O, Bajpai, A. K., Ashbrook, D.G., Starlard-Davenport, A., Towbin, J.A., Purevjav, E., Sheng, H., Lu, L. (in preparation) Unravelling the role of Tnni3k in cardiac function and cardiovascular diseases using systems genetics approaches. In preparation.

Conferences and selected presentations

  1. Genes, Brain, and Behavior 2022, Memphis, TN, USA, 23 – 27 May 2022
    • Symposium: ‘Revolutionary genomics: Third-generation sequencing and pangenome approaches to understanding genes and behavior’
  1. Center for In Vivo Microscopy (CIVM)Seminar Series, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA , 4 March 2022
    • Talk: ‘The importance of genetic background for model organism genetics, using the AD-BXD Alzheimer’s disease model’
    • Invited talk to about our collaboration with Duke, and the background to it
  1. Neuroscience 2021, Society for Neuroscience meeting 2021, Virtual , 8 – 11 November 2021
    • Talk: ‘GeneNetwork.org: genetic analysis for all neuroscientists’
    • Invited talk at a minisymposium on ‘Highlights From the Era of Open Source Online Tools — From Genes to Neurons, Circuits, Behaviors, and Whole Brain Data’
  1. Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Virtual, 11 August 2021
    • Talk: ‘Complexity and connectivity: Genes, environment and the brain’
  1. Genes, Brain, and Behavior Meeting 2021, Virtual , 12 – 15 May 2021
    • Talk: ‘Massive Diallel Crosses (DAX) as a tool for gene-by-environment interactions, epistasis, and experimental precision medicine’
  1. International Behavioural & Neural Genetics Society Virtual Trainee Symposium, Virtual , 23 September 2020
    • Talk: ‘The interaction effects of genetic variants, diet, and mitochondrial copy number on aging and longevity in the BXD family’
  1. Systems Genetics: From Genomes to Complex Traits, EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany , 29 September – 2 October 2019
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
  1. 33rd International Mammalian Genome Society Conference, Strasbourg, France, 25-28 September 2019
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
    • Received IMGS Scholarship to attend
  1. Complex Traits Consortium / Rat Genomics 17th Annual Meeting, La Jolla, CA, USA, 8-11 June, 2019
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
  1. 21st Annual Genes, Brain & Behavior Meeting, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, 10-14 May, 2019
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
  1. Parental Brain Conference 2018, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 13-14 July, 2018
    • Talk: ‘Indirect genetic effects of, and on, maternal care’
    • Invited speaker
  1. 16th Annual Meeting of the Complex Trait Community in collaboration with the Rat Genomics Community, Glasgow, Scotland, UK, 20-22 June, 2018
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
  1. 20th Annual Genes, Brain & Behavior Meeting, Rochester, MN, USA, 17-21 May 2018
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
    • Awarded IBANGS Young Investigator Travel Award to attend the conference
  1. 15th Annual Meeting of The MidSouth Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Society, Starville, MS, USA, 29-31 March 2018
    • Talk: ‘Sequencing the BXD family, a cohort for experimental systems genetics and precision medicine’
  1. 11th Annual Canadian Neuroscience Meeting, Montreal, Québec, Canada, 28-31 May 2017
    • Poster: ‘Epigenetic impacts of stress priming of the neuroinflammatory response to sarin surrogate in mice: a model of Gulf War Illness’
  1. The Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium Network Annual Meeting, “Epigenomics in Development and Disease”, Estérel, Québec, Canada, 18-21 September 2016
    • Awarded a CEEHRC Travel Award to attend the conference
    • Poster: ‘Epigenetic effects of corticosterone priming of the neuroinflammatory response to DFP in mice: a model of Gulf War Illness’
  1. MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics 6th Annual Summer School in Brain Disorder Research, Cardiff, UK, 6th – 9th July 2015
    • Attendance award by MRC and NISCHR
  1. 2015 Complex Trait Community 14th Annual Meeting, Portland, OR, USA, 8th – 11th June 2015
    • Talk: ‘Indirect genetic effects influence sibling and maternal behaviour in mice’
  1. From functional genomics to systems biology, EMBO Conference Series, Heidelberg, Germany, 8th – 11th November 2014
    • Poster: ‘Joint genetic analysis of hippocampal size in mouse and human identifies a novel gene linked to neurodegenerative disease’
  1. 2014 PhD Conference, Manchester, UK, 9th May 2014
    • Talk: ‘Joint genetic analysis of hippocampal volume in mouse and human identifies novel genes linked to neurodegenerative disease’
    • Prize for best talk
  1. INCF Course on Neuroinformatics, Neurogenomics and Brain Disease, Fraueninsel, Germany, 14th – 20th September 2013
    • Resulted in a paper (Ashbrook et al. 2014)
  1. Systems Biology Graduate Conference 2012, Oxford, UK, 26th – 27th June 2012
    • Poster: ‘Investigating parent-­of-­origin and imprinting effects in BXD using bioinformatics tools’
  1. The Dynamics of Disease – a Workshop in Medical Systems Biology, Manchester, UK, 28th Nov – 2nd Dec 2011

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