Michelle Rensel

Assistant Teaching Professor

(310) 267-5378

Life Sciences Building 3365A

2010   PhD     Biology, The University of Memphis
2009   MS       Biology, The University of Memphis
2005   BS        Biology, The University of Puget Sound (minor in Latin American Studies)

Michelle Rensel is a behavioral endocrinologist who utilizes a number of experimental and field-based tools to assess the complex relationship between hormones and behavior in birds. In particular, she investigates the role of steroid hormones (such as corticosterone, the primary avian “stress hormone”, and estradiol) in modulating cognition, as well as the capacity of the songbird brain to synthesize and/or modulate steroid hormone availability. She has conducted extensive fieldwork with free-living, cooperatively-breeding Florida scrub-jays as well as captive work with Western scrub-jays and zebra finches. In addition to assessing circulating steroid hormones, she investigates the role of steroid hormone synthesis and activity in the central nervous system using molecular techniques such as quantitative RT-PCR (to investigate expression of hormone receptors and steroidogenic enzymes) and in vivo microdialysis (to measure local steroid hormone levels in brain). Her current research focuses on the role of the corticosterone-inactivating enzyme 11 beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase in regulating access of corticosterone to discrete neural circuits.

In addition to her research, Dr. Rensel teaches several courses within the Institute for Society and Genetics. Current courses include:

  • Biotechnology and Society Freshman Cluster (Cluster/SocGen M71A,B,CW)
  • Stress and Society, Biology and Inequality (SocGen/Sociol M144)
  • Societal and Medical Issues in Human Genetics (SocGen M102)
  • Senior Capstone (SocGen 108)

Selected Publications (see CV for full list):

Rensel, M.A., Ding, J., Schlinger, B.A. 2018. 11β Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Types 1 and 2 in the songbird brain. Frontiers in Endocrinology 9: 86.

Logan, C.J., Harvey, B.D., Schlinger, B.A., and Rensel, M.A. 2016. Western scrub-jays do not appear to attend to functionality in Aesop’s fable experiments. Peer J 4: e1707.

Rensel, M.A. and Schlinger, B.A. 2016. Determinants and significance of neural corticosterone regulation in songbirds. General and Comparative Endocrinology 227: 136-42

Rensel, M.A., Ellis, J.E.M., Harvey, B. and Schlinger, B.A. 2015. Sex, estradiol, and spatial memory in a food-caching corvid. Hormones and Behavior 75: 45-54.

Ikeda, M., Rensel, M.A., Schlinger, B.A. and Remage-Healey, L. 2014. In vivo detection of fluctuating brain steroid levels. Cold Spring Harbor Protocols.

Schlinger, B.A., Remage-Healey, L. and Rensel, M.A. 2014. Establishing regional specificity of neuroestrogen signaling. General and Comparative Endocrinology 205: 235-241.

Rensel, M.A., Comito, D., Kosarussavadi, S. and Schlinger, B.A. 2014. Region-specific neural corticosterone patterns differ from plasma in a male songbird. Endocrinology 155:3572-3581.

Rensel, M.A., Salwiczek, L., Roth, J. and Schlinger, B.A. 2013. Context-dependent effects of estradiol on spatial learning and memory in the zebra finch. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 100: 41-47.

Schoech, S.J., Rensel, M.A. and Wilcoxen, T.E. 2012. Here today, not gone tomorrow: long-term effects of corticosterone. Proceedings of the 25th International Ornithological Congress, Journal of Ornithology 149. 153 (S1): S217-226.

Rensel, M.A. and Schoech, S.J. 2011. Repeatability of baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels across early life stages in the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Hormones and Behavior 59: 497-502.

Rensel, M.A., Wilcoxen, T.E. and Schoech, S.J. 2011. Corticosterone, hatch order, and brood size in free living Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) nestlings. General and Comparative Endocrinology 171: 197-202.

Rensel, M.A.,* Wilcoxen, T.E.* and Schoech, S.J. 2010. The influence of female nest attendance and paternal provisioning on nestling stress physiology in the Florida scrub-jay. Hormones and Behavior 57: 162-168. * denotes co-first authors

Rensel, M.A., Boughton, R.K. and Schoech, S.J. 2010. Development of the adrenal stress response in the Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). General and Comparative Endocrinology 165: 255-261.

Schoech, S.J. and Rensel, M.A. 2009. Environment, glucocorticoids, and the timing of reproduction.  General and Comparative Endocrinology 163: 201-207.