Elinor Sullivan


Assistant Professor, Department of Human Physiology
Member, ION

Ph.D. Oregon Health and Science University

Lab Website


Research Interests: 


Elinor Sullivan’s teaching focus is in the areas of nutrition, endocrinology, and neurobiology.

Dr. Sullivan’s research focuses on examining the influence of maternal metabolic state and dietary environment on offspring behavioral regulation, with an emphasis on behaviors that relate to mental health and behavioral disorders including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Her areas of expertise include behavioral neuroscience, with training and expertise in human and nonhuman primate behavior, brain development, developmental programming, maternal nutrition, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Dr. Sullivan received her Ph.D. in Physiology from Oregon Health and Science University. She received her postdoctoral training at the University of California San Francisco and Oregon Health and Science University. Prior to coming to the University of Oregon, Dr. Sullivan was an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at the University of Portland. Dr. Sullivan is currently an Assistant Professor in the Divisions of Neuroscience and Cardiometabolic health at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. She joined the UO Department of Human Physiology in 2017.

Dr. Sullivan has received research grants from the National Institute of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Murdock Charitable Trust, and the Obesity Society.


Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2021 Jul 3;50:100986. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100986. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: The National Institutes of Health announced the Healthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) study to further understanding of infant brain development. This study examined perceptions and knowledge about research among the demographic groups to be studied in HBCD.

METHOD: 1164 participants (n = 548 pregnant people and 616 mothers of infants < 12 months) completed anonymous, on-line surveys. Domains included research literacy, MRI knowledge, and attitudes about research incentives and biospecimen collection. Logistic regression was used to examine factors related to outcome variables.

RESULTS: Knowledge of MRI safety was low and research literacy was high across participants. Likelihood of participation given various incentives differed between participants. Those with lower education were less likely to rate any items as increasing likelihood of participation. Substance use during pregnancy improved the model fit only for items about alternate visit structures (home and telephone visits) and confidentiality.

CONCLUSION: Overall results support the feasibility of infant imaging studies, such as HBCD with respondents having high research literacy and interest in learning about their baby's development. Educating potential participants about MRI safety and providing flexible incentives for participation will improve the success of infant MRI studies.

PMID:34242880 | DOI:10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100986

Sci Rep. 2021 Jun 21;11(1):12977. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-92464-w.


The prevalence of maternal obesity is increasing in the United States. Offspring born to women with obesity or poor glycemic control have greater odds of becoming obese and developing metabolic disease later in life. Our group has utilized a macaque model to study the metabolic effects of consumption of a calorically-dense, Western-style diet (WSD; 36.3% fat) during pregnancy. Here, our objective was to characterize the effects of WSD and obesity, alone and together, on maternal glucose tolerance and insulin levels in dams during each pregnancy. Recognizing the collinearity of maternal measures, we adjusted for confounding factors including maternal age and parity. Based on intravenous glucose tolerance tests, dams consuming a WSD showed lower glucose area under the curve during first study pregnancies despite increased body fat percentage and increased insulin area under the curve. However, with (1) prolonged WSD feeding, (2) multiple diet switches, and/or (3) increasing age and parity, WSD was associated with increasingly higher insulin levels during glucose tolerance testing, indicative of insulin resistance. Our results suggest that prolonged or recurrent calorically-dense WSD and/or increased parity, rather than obesity per se, drive excess insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. These observations in a highly relevant species are likely of clinical and public health importance given the comparative ease of maternal dietary modifications relative to the low likelihood of successfully reversing obesity in the course of any given pregnancy.

PMID:34155315 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-021-92464-w