Haley B. Ragsdale, Ph.D.
Studying human pregnancy as
a conduit for evolutionary & developmental change
I apply evolutionary theory and a developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) framework to reproductive biology and health.
I'm currently interested in how energetic experiences shape lifetime metabolic strategy, and in turn, how reproductive investment is mediated across environmental contexts. I am working on identifying the mechanisms underlying intergenerational signals of past maternal experience and predictive adaptive responses in humans.
Learn more about my work by checking out
my current projects.
Evolutionary and ecological perspectives on human pregnancy
Elevated levels of inflammation in pregnancy are known to be associated with adverse birth outcomes, however pregnancy itself is an inflammatory process. My work in this area has found that maternal circulating inflammatory cytokine balance in late pregnancy predicts offspring birth size. This suggests that dynamic maintenance of inflammation via cytokine signaling may be important for fetal growth.
Nutrition and other factors that influence growth and development have been observed to predict various measures relating to future offspring health. My recent analysis of the link between maternal childhood weight gain and offspring fetal growth identified a novel pattern of associations between chronic energy status in maternal preadult life and altered development of highly canalized fetal traits in offspring.
A phylogenetic framework for human placental disorders
The global health burden of placental disorders is well-recognized, but the underlying reasons for humans' high susceptibility to these conditions are poorly understood. A perspective informed by phylogeny and life history theory suggests that evolutionarily novel increased body size in the human lineage may have placed significant strain on the physiological capabilities of our ancestral, "small-bodied" placenta, increasing risk for dysfunction.
The IGF axis as a regulator of maternal reproductive investment
Maternal and fetal hormones compete for control of the IGF axis that drives fetal growth, but maternal strategies for inhibiting offspring growth are poorly understood from both a theoretical and mechanistic basis. In my dissertation research, I explore the IGF axis as a potential candidate pathway linking a mother's early nutritional and energetic status with decreased energy allocation to offspring development.
Thanks for your interest in my research.
Please email with any comments or questions!
Department of Anthropology
1810 Hinman Ave
Evanston, IL 60208
A statement from Native American and Indigenous Initiatives at Northwestern University:
"Northwestern is a community of learners situated within a network of historical and contemporary relationships with Native American tribes, communities, parents, students, and alumni. It is also in close proximity to an urban Native American community in Chicago and near several tribes in the Midwest. The Northwestern campus sits on the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa, as well as the Menominee, Miami, and Ho-Chunk nations. It was also a site of trade, travel, gathering and healing for more than a dozen other Native tribes and is still home to over 100,000 tribal members in the state of Illinois."