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 Sep 22;52:101015. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.101015. Online ahead of print.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, research institutions across the globe have modified their operations in ways that have limited or eliminated the amount of permissible in-person research interaction. In order to prevent the loss of important developmentally-timed data during the pandemic, researchers have quickly pivoted and developed innovative methods for remote assessment of research participants. In this manuscript, we describe methods developed for remote assessment of a parent child cohort with a focus on examining the perinatal environment, behavioral and biological indicators of child neurobehavioral development, parent-child interaction, as well as parent and child mental and physical health. We include recommendations relevant to adapting in-laboratory assessments for remote data collection and conclude with a description of the successful dissemination of the methods to eight research sites across the United States, each of whom are involved in Phase 1 of the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study. These remote methods were born out of pandemic-related necessity; however, they have much wider applicability and may offer advantages over in-laboratory neurodevelopmental assessments.

PMID:34601346 | DOI:10.1016/j.dcn.2021.101015

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2021 Sep 30:107033. doi: 10.1016/j.ntt.2021.107033. Online ahead of print.


Understanding of the effects of in utero opioid exposure on neurodevelopment is a priority given the recent dramatic increase in opioid use among pregnant individuals. However, opioid abuse does not occur in isolation-pregnant individuals abusing opioids often have a significant history of adverse experiences in childhood, among other co-occurring factors. Understanding the specific pathways in which these frequently co-occurring factors may interact and cumulatively influence offspring brain development in utero represents a priority for future research in this area. We highlight maternal history of childhood adversity (CA) as one such co-occurring factor that is more prevalent among individuals using opioids during pregnancy and which is increasingly shown to affect offspring neurodevelopment through mechanisms beginning in utero. Despite the high incidence of CA history in pregnant individuals using opioids, we understand very little about the effects of comorbid prenatal opioid exposure and maternal CA history on fetal brain development. Here, we first provide an overview of current knowledge regarding effects of opioid exposure and maternal CA on offspring neurodevelopment that may occur during gestation. We then outline potential mechanistic pathways through which these factors might have interactive and cumulative influences on offspring neurodevelopment as a foundation for future research in this area.

PMID:34601061 | DOI:10.1016/j.ntt.2021.107033

Child Dev. 2021 Aug 27. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13656. Online ahead of print.


This study sought to advance understanding of the potential long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for child development by characterizing trajectories of maternal perinatal depression, a common and significant risk factor for adverse child outcomes. Data came from 393 women (86% White, 8% Latina; mean age = 33.51 years) recruited during pregnancy (n = 247; mean gestational age = 22.94 weeks) or during the first year postpartum (n = 146; mean child age = 4.50 months; 55% female). Rates of depression appear elevated, relative to published reports and to a pre-pandemic comparison group (N = 155). This study also provides evidence for subgroups of individuals who differ in their depressive symptom trajectories over the perinatal period. Subgroup membership was related to differences in maternal social support, but not to child birth outcomes.

PMID:34448493 | DOI:10.1111/cdev.13656

Front Psychol. 2021 Jul 30;12:698766. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.698766. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: There is a dire need for research regarding the implications of opioid use during pregnancy on fetal and childhood development to better inform both medical practice and policy. The Healthy Brain and Child Development Study will examine brain and behavioral development from birth through the first decade of life. Due to large scope and anticipated complexity of this initiative, an 18-month planning phase was implemented across 28 sites across the nation. A core element of the Phase I initiative involved the development of Stakeholder Advisory Committees to inform the next phase of the initiative. Methods: Phase I stakeholder meetings were conducted at Oregon Health and Science University, New York University Langone Medical Center, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Vermont to better understand perspectives and inform upcoming research. Despite differences in the structure of the stakeholder meetings by site, the overarching goals for the meetings included establishing relationships, gathering input, and learning about research engagement. Documents from each meeting were reviewed for location, duration, attendees, common research themes, and pertinent suggestions for improving research approaches. Results: All stakeholders had high levels of interest in research for pregnant people with substance use disorders and agreed on research priorities including collaboration, connection, communication, and support. Different stakeholders offered unique perspectives on various aspects of study design and themes that emerged through meetings. Discussion: Overall, there was excitement about the research, especially the opportunity to include the voices of people with lived experience; collaboration between providers, peer support specialists, patients, and others; and excitement around contributing to research that could elucidate new and pertinent findings in the realm of addiction medicine and child development. Sites also found that there is mistrust between people with substance use disorder and the medical system, and this could be addressed by including people with lived experience on the research team, forming connections, communicating clearly, training the research team in implicit bias, and practicing trauma-informed care. In conclusion, these stakeholder meetings provided valuable information for structuring upcoming studies; however, researchers would have benefitted from more time and more opportunities for in-person connection.

PMID:34393931 | PMC:PMC8361604 | DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.698766

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