Group Leader

Dr. Elseline Hoekzema


The research group and projects are directed by Elseline Hoekzema, a neuroscientist and mother who is fascinated by the neurobiology of pregnancy in humans and one of the pioneers in this research field. Throughout her research career, she has studied plasticity in the human and rat brain in response to various internal and external triggers. In the last decade, Elseline specialized in peripartum brain plasticity and discovered that pregnancy renders long-lasting changes in the human brain. In her research group at the Amsterdam University Medical Center, Elseline and her team investigate how becoming a mother changes the anatomy, microstructure, metabolism and activity of the brain. They also study what biological (e.g. hormones, microbiome, genetics) and other factors are driving these changes and what the functional implications are for the mother-infant dyad. Her research on this topic has primarily been supported by the European Research Council (ERC), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Brain and Behavior Foundation.


Dr. Milou Straathof


During her PhD project, Milou investigated the plasticity of the brain due to different brain disorders, including stroke and OCD. When finishing her PhD, she became interested in a specific period of a women's life when her brain is extremely plastic, namely pregnancy.  She see the brain as a network, in which many brain regions are working together to support all our daily life functions, which are changing when becoming a mother. She would like to investigate how the structural and functional brain networks adapt during pregnancy and the post-partum period and how this contributes to behavior using MRI as a Postdoc and        Coordinating Researcher on this project. 

Dr. Klara Sifalakis-Spalek


Klara joined the Hoekzema lab as a senior post-doctoral researcher, because of her highly related past research activities. Her previous work focused on the investigation of the effects variations in endogenous ovarian hormones have on emotional processing and memory performance as well as mental health in women. She is interested in understanding the role ovarian hormones and their variations (such as during puberty, menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause and use of certain medications) have on our brain and behavior. Her research approach relies typically on multiple modalities (brain imaging, physiological and behavioral    measures). Her vision is that the understanding of these processes will potentially provide        knowledge about their role in psychopathological disorders.  

PhD Students

Sophie van 't Hof


Sophie has a background in neuroscience and has focused on different topics related to women's mental health and fundamental cognitive neuroscientific topics during her studies in Amsterdam, the US, Scotland and Belgium. During this project, she wants to understand what implications the changes in brain structure have on brain activation and behavior and how this related to hormonal changes. 

Sara Halmans


Sara joined the lab in October 2022 as a PhD student. She has a background in psychology and gained different brain research experiences in Germany and Sweden. What fascinates her most about this topic is how the brain is altered in different situations in life and how that can have an impact on mental health conditions. Therefore, Sara's focus in our project will be on postnatal depression and it's relationship to brain alterations during pregnancy.


For practical information about ongoing projects and the team you can encounter during your sessions, see our local project website:


To get in touch with us, please fill out our contact form: Contact.