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April E. Ronca

April E. Ronca
Credits: NASA / Dominic Hart

Title: Senior Scientist
Phone: (650) 604-3595

Email: April.E.Ronca@nasa.gov
Affiliation: Space Biosciences Research Branch

Professional Background

April E. Ronca, Ph.D. is a scientist in the Space Biosciences Research Branch and Adjunct Professor Obstetrics & Gynecology, and jointly, Neurobiology & Anatomy, Molecular Medicine & Translational Science, and the Center for Biomolecular Imaging at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Dr. Ronca has published over 80 peer-reviewed publications, has been awarded grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NASA, and served on the NIH Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section from 2009 to 2013. Dr. Ronca was an investigator on two spaceflight experiments jointly sponsored by the NIH and NASA (NIH.R1 and NIH.R2), the first in which pregnant mammals were flown on the space shuttle. Her work has been featured on the Science Discovery Channel, and she was interviewed for the History Channel Universe segment on ‘Sex in Space’. In 2004, she was honored with the Thora W. Halstead Young Investigator Award and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal. Dr. Ronca has served on numerous federal review panels and working groups, including the National Academy of Sciences Animal and Human Biology Panel for the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space. She serves on the Editorial Boards for Gravitational & Space Research, Life in Space Research, and Developmental Psychobiology. From 2009-2013, she was Director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence Research Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a position through which she established new translational research initiatives in sex/gender biomedicine. In 2013, she Co-Chaired the NASA Headquarters Review of The Role of Sex/Gender in Adaptation to Spaceflight: Reproduction, coincident with the first NASA Astronaut Class comprised of 50% women (2013).
B.S., Psychology, Ohio State University
M.A., Behavioral Biology, Ohio State University
Ph.D., Neuroscience, Ohio State University
Indiana University Postdoctoral Fellow, Developmental Neuroscience & Behavior
Research Interests:
Dr. Ronca’s research focuses on reproduction, neurodevelopment and sex differences in space and on Earth. Many of her studies involve mammalian pregnancy, birth and the transition from prenatal to postnatal life emphasizing early sensory experience, epigenetics, sex differences, and the prenatal origins of neurodevelopmental disorders. Her translational approach combines neurobiological, biochemical, epigenetic, neural imaging and behavioral analyses to elucidate effects of perinatal environment on later life phenotypes.

Recent work is focused on sex differences in brain oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and behavior/cognition associated with exposure to microgravity, space radiation, and isolation during future deep space missions.

Select Publications:
Ronca, A.E., Souza, K.A., & Mains, R.C. (Eds.) Translational Cell and Animal Research in Space: 1965-2011. NASA,/SP-2015-625, 2016.
Chapters and Reviews:

  1. Ronca, A.E. Mammalian development in space. Invited Contribution: H.J. Marthy (Ed.) Advances in Space Biology and Medicine, Vol. 9, Development in Space, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2003.
  2. Ronca, A.E. Invited Review. Studies toward mammalian birth and development in space. Advances in Space Research, 32, 1383-1390, 2003.
  3. Ronca, A.E., Wade, C.E. & Plaut, K. Invited Review: Relationship between gravity and mammary metabolism. Comments on Theoretical Biology, 8, 1-16, 2003.
  4. Alberts, J.R. & Ronca, A.E. Development as adaptation: A paradigm for gravitational and space biology. In G. Sonnenfeld (Ed.) Advances in Space Biology and Medicine, Vol. 10, Experimentation with Animal Models in Space, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2005.
  5. Ronca, A.E. Developmental space biology of mammals: Concepts and methods of study. In: P.M. Conn (Ed.) Sourcebook of Models for Biomedical Research, New Jersey: Humana Press, 2008.
  6. Ronca, A.E. & Alberts, J.R. Fetal and Birth Experiences: Proximate Effects, Developmental Consequences, Epigenetic Legacies. In N.N. Reissland & B.S. Kisilevsky (Eds.), Advancing Research on Fetal Development, Springer U.K., Springer U.K., 2016.
  7. Ronca A.E., Lowe M.G. Rodents as a model for research in space. In Y Pathak, M Araújo dos Santos, L Zea (Eds) Handbook of Space Pharmaceuticals: Model organisms for pharmaceutical research in space, Springer Nature, Switzerland, in press.

Journal Articles (selected list):

  1. Ronca, A.E., Lamkin, C.A. & Alberts, J.R. Maternal contributions to sensory experience in the fetal and newborn rat (Rattus norvegicus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 107 (1), 64-71, 1993.
  2. Ronca, A.E., Abel, R.A. & Alberts, J.R. Perinatal stimulation and adaptation of the neonate. Acta Pediatrica, 415, 8-15, 1996.
  3. Abel, R.A., Ronca, A.E. & Alberts, J.R. Perinatal stimulation facilitates suckling onset in newborn rats. Developmental Psychobiology, 32 (2), 91-99, 1998.
  4. Ronca, A.E. & Alberts, J.R. Physiology of a Microgravity Environment Selected Contribution: Effects of spaceflight during pregnancy on labor and birth at 1 G. Journal of Applied Physiology, 89 (2), 849-854, 2000.
  5. Ronca, A.E. & Alberts, J.R. Effects of prenatal spaceflight on vestibular responses in neonatal rats. Journal of Applied Physiology, 89:4, 2318-2324, 2000.
  6. Tou, J., Grindeland, R.E., Ronca, A.E. & Wade, C.E. Review: Effects of gravity on mammalian reproduction. Biology of Reproduction, 67:1681-1687, 2002.
  7. Burden, H.W., Zary, J.T., Hodson, C.A., Gregory, H., Baer, L.A. & Ronca, A.E. Effects of hypergravity during pregnancy on ovarian-hypophyseal function. Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, 74 (2), 110-114, 2003.
  8. Plaut, K., Maple, R., Baer, L.A., Wade, C.E. & Ronca, A.E. Mammary to metabolic function: Gravity acts as a continuum. Journal of Applied Physiology, 95 (6), 2350-2354, 2003.
  9. Ronca, A.E., Rushing, L., Tou, J., Wade, C.E. & Baer, L.A. Centrifugation effects on estrous cycle, mating success and pregnancy outcome. Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 12(1), P183-184. 2005.
  10. Baer, L.A., Rushing, L., Wade, C.E. & Ronca, A.E. Prenatal centrifugation: A model for developmental programming of adult body weight? Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 12(1), P181-182. 2005.
  11. Ronca, A.E., Abel, R.A., Ronan, P., Renner, K. & Alberts, J.R. Effects of labor contractions on catecholamine release and breathing frequency in newborn rats, Behavioral Neuroscience, 120(6), 1308-1314, 2006.
  12. Ronca, A.E. Effects of spaceflight and increased gravity on reproductive processes of female mammals, Gravitational and Space Biology, 20(3), 97-98, 2007.
  13. Lintault, L. Zakrzewska, E.I., Maple, R.L., Baer, L.A., Casey, T.M., Ronca, A.E., Wade, C.E. & Plaut, K. Changes in gravitational force and not food intake alter tissue metabolism and adversely affect neonatal survival, Journal of Applied Physiology, 2(6):2186-93, 2007.
  14. Patel, O.V., Zakrzewska, E.I., Maple, R.L., Baer, L., Ronca, A.E., Wade, C.E. & Plaut, K. Lipogenesis impaired in periparturient rats exposed to altered gravity is independent of prolactin and glucocorticoid secretion. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 104(5):847-58, 2008.
  15. Ronca, A.E., Fritzsch, B., Bruce, L.L., & Alberts, J.R. Orbital spaceflight during pregnancy shapes form and function of mammalian vestibular system. Behavioral Neuroscience, 122(1), 224-232, 2008.
  16. Kleven, G.A. & Ronca, A.E. Prenatal behavior of the C57BL/6J mouse: A promising model for human fetal movement during early to mid-gestation, Developmental Psychobiology, 51(1):84-94, 2009.
  17. Ronca, A.E. Along the gravity continuum: Perinatal studies and development at high g. Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 16(1), 99-102, 2009.
  18. Ronca, A.E. Tulbert, C.D., & Baer, L.A. Increased intrauterine pressure (IUP) magnitude during labor at 1.5-g revealed by telemetry in freely moving pregnant rats, Gravitational and Space Biology, 26(1):50-54, 2012.
  19. Morgan, J.J., Tulbert, C.D., & Ronca, A.E. Perinatal asphyxia impairs vestibular righting responses in neonatal rats. Gravitational and Space Biology, 26(1):45-49, 2012.
  20. Casey, T., Zakrzewska, E.I., Maple, R., Lintault, L., Baer, L.A., Wade, C.E., Ronca, A.E.*, & Plaut, K.* Hypergravity exposure during pregnancy disrupts homeorhetic adaptations in tissue metabolism necessary for successful lactation in rat dams. (*equal contributors), Biology Open, 1, 570-581, 2012. doi: 10.1242/bio.2012687
  21. Alberts, J.R. & Ronca, A.E. Invited: The experience of being born: A natural context for learning to suckle. Special Issue on the Development of Oral Feeding Skills, International Journal of Pediatrics, vol 2012, Article ID 129328, 11 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/129328
  22. Morgan, J.J., Kleven, G.A., Tulbert, C.D., Olson, J., Horita, D.A., & Ronca, A.E. Longitudinal 1H MR spectroscopic analysis of forebrain neurometabolic profiles from infancy to adulthood reveals distinct changes in adolescence. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance in Biomedicine, 2013 Jan 16. doi: 10.1002/nbm.2913.
  23. Kleven, G.A., Priyanka, J., Voogd, M., & Ronca, A.E. Prenatal dopaminergic-dependent behavioral development in the Pitx3 mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, European Journal of Neuroscience, 2013 May;37(10):1564-72. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12184.
  24. Ronca, A.E., Alwood, J.S., Globus, R.K., & Souza, K.S. Mammalian Reproduction and Development on the International Space Station (ISS): Proceedings of the Rodent Mark III Habitat Workshop. Gravitational and Space Research, 2013 Oct 31;1(1):107-123.
  25. Kleven, G.A., Booth, H.M., Voogd, M., & Ronca, A.E. L-Dopa reverses behavioral deficits in the Pitx3 mouse fetus. Behavioral Neuroscience, 2014 Dec;128(6):749-59. doi: 10.1037/bne0000016.
  26. Ronca, A.E., Baker, E.S., Bavendam, T.G., Beck, K.D., Miller, V.M., Tash, J.S., Jenkins, M. Effects of Sex and Gender on Adaptation to Space: Reproductive Considerations. Journal of Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2014 Nov;23(11):967-74. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2014.4915.
  27. Blaze J, Asok A, Tulbert C, Bollinger J, Ronca A*, Roth TL*. Intrauterine exposure to maternal stress alters Bdnf DNA methylation and telomere length in adult rat brain. Int J Dev Neurosci, Transgenerational aspects of nervous system epigenetics. *equal contrib, 2017, 62:56-6.
  28. Stellar, J.G., Alberts, J.R., Ronca, A.E. Invited: Oxidative stress as cause, consequence, or biomarker of altered reproduction and development in the space environment. Int J Molec Sci, 2018, 19 (12), 3729; doi:10.3390/ijms19123729.
  29. Ronca, A.E., Moyer, E., Talyansky, Y., Padmanabhan, S., Choi, S., Gong, C., Cadena, S., Stodieck, L., Globus, R.K. Behavior of female mice aboard the ISS, Scientific Reports Special Issue on Gravitational Biology and Space Medicine, 2019 Apr 11;9(1):4717. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-40789-y. Erratum in: Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 9;9(1):10154. Scientific Reports 2019 Top 100 Neuroscience Papers Collection.
  30. Tahimic, C.G.T., Paul, A.M., Schreurs, A-S, Torres, S., Rubinstein, L., Steczina, S., Lowe, M., Bhattacharya, S., Alwood, J., Ronca, A.E., Globus, R.K. Influence of social isolation during prolonged simulated weightlessness by hindlimb unloading. Frontiers in Physiology, section Environmental, Aviation and Space Physiology, 2019 Sep 13;10:1147. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fphys.2019.01147.
  31. Hong, X., Ratri, A., Choi, S.Y., Tash, J.S., Ronca, A.E., Alwood, J.S., Christenson, L.K. Effects of spaceflight aboard the International Space Station on mouse estrous cycle and ovarian gene expression, npgMicrogravity, in press.
  32. Choi, S., Saravia-Butler, A., Shirazi-Fard, Y., Leveson-Gower, D., Stodieck L.S., Cadena, S.M., Beegle, J., Solis, S., Ronca, A.E., Globus, R.K. Validation of a new rodent experimental system to investigate consequences of long duration space habitation. Scientific Reports, Special Issue on Gravitational biology and space medicine, 2020;10(1):2336. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-58898-4.

Other Information

Awards and Activities:

  • Presidential Fellowship, Ohio State University, 1985-86
  • D.O. Hebb Award, American Psychological Association, 1991
  • Sigma Xi, Honorary Scientific Society, 1991
  • Thora Halstead Young Investigator Award, American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology, 2004
  • NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, 2004
  • International Society for Developmental Psychobiology Service Award, 2006
  • Fellow, Career Development Program for Emerging Women Leaders, Women’s Health Center of Excellence (WHCOE) for Research, Leadership, and Education, Wake Forest School of Medicine, 2009-2010
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Space Studies Board Decadal Survey in Life and Physical Sciences Space Research Panel, 2009-2012
  • Member, Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology (BRLE) Study Section at the National Institute of Health (NIH), 2009- 2013
  • Research Excellence Award, Wake Forest School of Medicine (WFSM), 2010; 2011
  • Co-Chair, Rodent Habitat Workshop Mark III to Support Multigenerational Studies in Space, NASA Ames Research Center, 2013
  • Co-Chair, NASA Decadal Review of The Role of Sex/Gender in Adaptation to Spaceflight Reproduction Workgroup, 2013-2014
  • President, International Society for Developmental Psychobiology (ISDP), 2014-2016
  • President, American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), 2015-2016
  • NASA Group Achievement Award Panel on The Role of Sex and Gender in Space Adaptation, Johnson Space Center, 2014
  • Co-Organizer, From the Bench to Exploration Medicine: NASA Translational Research Roadmap (TRR) Synergies Within Space and Synthetic Biology, Astrobiology, and the Human Research Program, American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) Workshop 30th Annual Meeting, November 2014
  • Co-Organizer, Translational Research In Space Medicine, International Society for Gravitational Physiology, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015
  • Editorial Board Member, International Society for Developmental Psychobiology (ISDP), 2014-2016
  • Associate Editor, Life Sciences in Space Research, 2015-present
  • Presidential Award, American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), 2016
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal (2016)
  • Associate, Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), 2016-present
  • NASA Superior Accomplishment Award, 2019
  • Guest Editor, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews Special Issue: Fifty Years of Space Neuroscience: Revelations, Questions and Caveats As We Envision Exploration and Colonization’, 2020-2021.

Lab Team Members:

Moniece Lowe (Contractor)
Links to Recent Press:
Radio & web feature “The Final Frontier: Space Sex.” Aired on The Pulse, produced by WHYY, greater Philadelphia’s leading public media provider. (newsworks.org, Jun. 22, 2015)