Areas of Expertise (4)
Fantasy Sports and decision making
In our research we use the model organism C. elegans, a free-living soil based roundworm. Dr. Portman's lab uses several approaches, including a novel technique to sex-reverse the nervous system of our worms, to study the above questions. Former students and post-docs in the lab have investigated sex differences in olfaction and locomotion. Currently, we are working on understanding a sex difference in exploration. Males explore to a much greater extent than do hermaphrodites in this species. We find that the difference in exploration can be traced to a single gene product, expressed in a single pair of sensory neurons in C. elegans hermaphrodites. Forcing the expression of this gene in males, or sex reversing the nervous system can lead to hermaphrodite-like behavior in male worms. We are currently investigating the link between this gene and food sensation as well as what kind of evolutionary advantage this sex difference confers upon C. elegans males.
Additional projects I am pursuing with Dr. Portman include the investigation of a male-specific neuropeptide, FLP-23. Males lacking the flp-23 gene have behavioral deficits that may be traceable to developmental abnormalities in gonad morphogenesis. We are also using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to generate mutations in candidate receptors for FLP-23 in order to better understand the molecular signal transduction required for male specific behaviors and development. All of these projects ultimately help us to understand how sex differences in the brain are generated and regulated, what the physical substrates of the differences are, and how such differences interact with environmental stimuli to produce unique behavioral outputs and differential disease susceptibility.
University of Rochester: PhD 2005
Selected Media Appearances (9)
Voting for the Hall of Fame, and the science behind the pain
The Athletic online
So a few days ago, I called Dr. Miller, the director of the undergraduate neuroscience program at the University of Rochester. If her name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve read her here in The Athletic, where she uses her insights on decision-making to write about fantasy sports. Of course, I didn’t seek her out for help on a mock draft. I wanted to know why it felt like I’d gotten it wrong. “All kinds of cognitive biases exist, mainly to protect our egos,” Dr. Miller said. “To ensure to us that we’re good people on the right track.”
The user’s guide to preparing your fantasy football lineups for playoff success
The Athletic online
Dr. Renee Miller is a neuroscientist and Director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program at the University of Rochester. She won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Fantasy Football Series in 2019.
How your brain works against you in fantasy football
Yahoo! News online
Welcome to the Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football Forecast! Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski and Renee Miller, neuroscientist at the University of Rochester and fantasy analyst at RotoWorld and The Athletic, discuss biases, psychology, and how we get in our own way when it comes to our fantasy football teams.
When People Become Commodities
The Hardball Times online
At the end of July, I–like everyone else in the baseball world–was wrapped up in the fanfare of another major league trade deadline. There was so much to think about: How would teams approach the deadline this year with the new rules in place eliminating August waiver trades? Which teams were going for it? What would my team do–or not do? As sabermetrics continue to become more advanced and public access to data increases, the temptation to view players as numbers can become more prominent. Fantasy sports, which put fans in the seats of front-office personnel, only exacerbate this distancing effect. “In fantasy football, we’re valuing players according to what they can do for us,” said Renee Miller, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester in an interview with the New York Times. “The fact that we are using football players for our own purpose necessitates our distancing ourselves from them. They are people, but people who work for us, and with whom we have no personal contact.” Fantasy baseball is certainly no different in this regard and increased access to data, along with sports betting becoming more mainstream, have fueled the expansion of the fantasy sports industry at a breakneck pace.
NFL Week 14 Fantasy Flex with Guest Renee Miller
Fantasy Labs radio
All aboard the Amari Cooper bandwagon! Matthew Freedman, Peter Jennings and Sean “Oddsmaker” Koerner are joined by University of Rochester neuroscientist and Rotoworld fantasy football expert Renee Miller. Together the gang discusses all the NFL Week 14 fades, pivots and stacks to focus on, plus a round of Bold Calls and some jocular prop betting action. Will Travis Kelce be the top fantasy tight end this week? Will Gronk finally retire this offseason? Is Freedman transitioning from “self-loathing Cowboys fan” to simply “Cowboys fan?” Answers to all these and more await.
A unique point of view on how your brain impacts fantasy sports decision-making comes to The Athletic
The Athletic online
As a neuroscience professor at a private university, I often get asked why I write about fantasy sports at all. It’s not exactly a hot topic in any of the science departments I interact with, although I do run a 16-team Brain Lovers fantasy football league for enthusiastic neuroscience students.
The time-sucking, dopamine-boosting science of fantasy baseball
Spring training is underway, and for millions of baseball fans that means it's time to start over-analyzing players and stats to fill their not-real, totally-made-up team rosters. Welcome to a new season of fantasy baseball.
Are Male Brains Wired to Ignore Food for Sex?
University of Rochester Newsroom online
Choosing between two good things can be tough. When animals must decide between feeding and mating, it can get even trickier. In a discovery that might ring true even for some humans, researchers have shown that male brains – at least in nematodes – will suppress the ability to locate food in order to instead focus on finding a mate.
UofR's Renee Miller can name your biggest fantasy sports opponent
WHAM 13 Rochester tv
Worms make decisions and Renee Miller studies those decisions. More accurately, the University of Rochester neuroscientist changes things about the worms then studies the worms' decisions. On the side she plays Daily Fantasy Sports, or DFS. More accurately, she plays fantasy sports then studies fantasy sports decisions.
Research Focus (1)
In our research we use the model organism C. elegans, a free-living soil based roundworm. Dr. Portman's lab uses several approaches, including a novel technique to sex-reverse the nervous system of our worms, to study the above questions. Former students and post-docs in the lab have investigated sex differences in olfaction and locomotion. Currently, we are working on understanding a sex difference in exploration. Males explore to a much greater extent than do hermaphrodites in this species. We find that the difference in exploration can be traced to a single gene product, expressed in a single pair of sensory neurons in C. elegans hermaphrodites. Forcing the expression of this gene in males, or sex reversing the nervous system can lead to hermaphrodite-like behavior in male worms. We are currently investigating the link between this gene and food sensation as well as what kind of evolutionary advantage this sex difference confers upon C. elegans males. Additional projects I am pursuing with Dr. Portman include the investigation of a male-specific neuropeptide, FLP-23. Males lacking the flp-23 gene have behavioral deficits that may be traceable to developmental abnormalities in gonad morphogenesis. We are also using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to generate mutations in candidate receptors for FLP-23 in order to better understand the molecular signal transduction required for male specific behaviors and development. All of these projects ultimately help us to understand how sex differences in the brain are generated and regulated, what the physical substrates of the differences are, and how such differences interact with environmental stimuli to produce unique behavioral outputs and differential disease susceptibility.
Selected Articles (5)
Sex, Age, and Hunger Regulate Behavioral Prioritization through Dynamic Modulation of Chemoreceptor ExpressionCurrent Biology
DA Ryan, RM Miller, KH Lee, S Neal, K Fagan, P Sengupta and DS Portman
2014 Adaptive behavioral prioritization requires flexible outputs from fixed neural circuits. In C. elegans, the prioritization of feeding versus mate searching depends on biological sex (males will abandon food to search for mates, whereas hermaphrodites will not) as well as developmental stage and feeding status. Previously, we found that males are less attracted than hermaphrodites to the food-associated odorant diacetyl, suggesting that sensory modulation may contribute to behavioral prioritization.
Multiple doublesex-Related Genes Specify Critical Cell Fates in a C. elegans Male Neural CircuitPLoS ONE
Siehr MS, Koo PK, Sherlekar AL, Bian X, Bunkers MR, Miller RM, Portman DS, Lints R.
2011 In most animal species, males and females exhibit differences in behavior and morphology that relate to their respective roles in reproduction. DM (Doublesex/MAB-3) domain transcription factors are phylogenetically conserved regulators of sexual development. They are thought to establish sexual traits by sex-specifically modifying the activity of general developmental programs. However, there are few examples where the details of these interactions are known, particularly in the nervous system.
The Wnt/β-Catenin Asymmetry Pathway Patterns the Atonal Ortholog lin-32 to Diversify Cell Fate in a Caenorhabditis elegans Sensory LineageJournal of Neuroscience
Renee M. Miller and Douglas S. Portman
2011 Each sensory ray of the Caenorhabditis elegans male tail comprises three distinct neuroglial cell types. These three cells descend from a single progenitor, the ray precursor cell, through several rounds of asymmetric division called the ray sublineage. Ray development requires the conserved atonal-family bHLH gene lin-32, which specifies the ray neuroblast and promotes the differentiation of its progeny. However, the mechanisms that allocate specific cell fates among these progeny are unknown. Here we show that the distribution of LIN-32 during the ray sublineage is markedly asymmetric, localizing to anterior daughter cells in two successive cell divisions. The anterior–posterior patterning of LIN-32 expression and of differentiated ray neuroglial fates is brought about by the Wnt/β-catenin asymmetry pathway, including the Wnt ligand LIN-44, its receptor LIN-17, and downstream components LIT-1 (NLK), SYS-1 (β-catenin), and POP-1 (TCF). LIN-32 asymmetry itself has an important role in patterning ray cell fates, because the failure to silence lin-32 expression in posterior cells disrupts development of this branch of the ray sublineage. Together, our results illustrate a mechanism whereby the regulated function of a proneural-class gene in a single neural lineage can both specify a neural precursor and actively pattern the fates of its progeny. Moreover, they reveal a central role for the Wnt/β-catenin asymmetry pathway in patterning neural and glial fates in a simple sensory lineage.
PGC-1α, a potential therapeutic target for early intervention in Parkinson's disease.Science Translational Medicine
Zheng B, Liao Z, Locascio JJ, Lesniak KA, Roderick SS, Watt ML, Eklund AC, Zhang-James Y, Kim PD, Hauser MA, Grünblatt E, Moran LB, Mandel SA, Riederer P, Miller RM, Federoff HJ, Wüllner U, Papapetropoulos S, Youdim MB, Cantuti-Castelvetri I, Young AB, Vance JM, Davis RL, Hedreen JC, Adler CH, Beach TG, Graeber MB, Middleton FA, Rochet JC, Scherzer CR
2010 Parkinson's disease affects 5 million people worldwide, but the molecular mechanisms underlying its pathogenesis are still unclear. Here, we report a genome-wide meta-analysis of gene sets (groups of genes that encode the same biological pathway or process) in 410 samples from patients with symptomatic Parkinson's and subclinical disease and healthy controls. We analyzed 6.8 million raw data points from nine genome-wide expression studies, and 185 laser-captured human dopaminergic neuron and substantia nigra transcriptomes, followed by two-stage replication on three platforms. We found 10 gene sets with previously unknown associations with Parkinson's disease. These gene sets pinpoint defects in mitochondrial electron transport, glucose utilization, and glucose sensing and reveal that they occur early in disease pathogenesis. Genes controlling cellular bioenergetics that are expressed in response to peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator-1α (PGC-1α) are underexpressed in Parkinson's disease patients. Activation of PGC-1α results in increased expression of nuclear-encoded subunits of the mitochondrial respiratory chain and blocks the dopaminergic neuron loss induced by mutant α-synuclein or the pesticide rotenone in cellular disease models. Our systems biology analysis of Parkinson's disease identifies PGC-1α as a potential therapeutic target for early intervention.
Specific a- and b-tubulin isotypes optimize the functions of sensory cilia in Caenorhabditis elegansGenetics
Hurd DD, Miller RM, Núñez L, Portman DS
2010 Primary cilia have essential roles in transducing signals in eukaryotes. At their core is the ciliary axoneme, a microtubule-based structure that defines cilium morphology and provides a substrate for intraflagellar transport. However, the extent to which axonemal microtubules are specialized for sensory cilium function is unknown. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, primary cilia are present at the dendritic ends of most sensory neurons, where they provide a specialized environment for the transduction of particular stimuli. Here, we find that three tubulin isotypes--the alpha-tubulins TBA-6 and TBA-9 and the beta-tubulin TBB-4--are specifically expressed in overlapping sets of C. elegans sensory neurons and localize to the sensory cilia of these cells. Although cilia still form in mutants lacking tba-6, tba-9, and tbb-4, ciliary function is often compromised: these mutants exhibit a variety of sensory deficits as well as the mislocalization of signaling components. In at least one case, that of the CEM cephalic sensory neurons, cilium architecture is disrupted in mutants lacking specific ciliary tubulins. While there is likely to be some functional redundancy among C. elegans tubulin genes, our results indicate that specific tubulins optimize the functional properties of C. elegans sensory cilia.