In Memory of Robert W. Goy

Article excerpt

Robert W. Goy, pioneering investigator of the origins of behavioral sex differences, educator, and Primate Center director, died January 14, 1999, from cardiovascular and metabolic complications. He would have been 75 on January 25th.

Goy was a professor of psychology and director of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center at UW-Madison from 1971 to 1989. His seminal research advanced the notion that exposure to the male sex hormone testosterone during fetal development "organized" the developing nervous system to express masculine characteristics. This basic principle of hormone action has been found to operate in animals from lizards to nonhuman primates, and is an important aspect of human development. In addition, Goy made significant contributions to our understanding of the role that early social experience plays in developing the expression of masculine and feminine behavior. For more than 35 years, Goy mentored Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows who have become leaders in the fields of primate behavior and neuroendocrinology. A long time member of the NIH Psychobiology Research Panel, Goy was a strong and consistent supporter of innovative research in this field. Many of today's established researchers benefited from Goy's ability to recognize new and exciting research approaches before they became widely accepted.

Goy was born in Detroit, and received his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1947 and the University of Chicago in 1953, respectively. He then joined the laboratory of W. C. Young at the University of Kansas, where some of the most important advances in the emerging field of behavioral endocrinology were made over the next 10 years. In the early 1950s, W. C. Young's laboratory team, through extensive studies of guinea pigs, demonstrated that the presence of specific gonadal hormones turned on, or activated, adult patterns of reproductive behavior. Using inbred guinea pig strains, Goy, along with Jaqueline Jakway, demonstrated that the sensitivity to these activating effects was genetically regulated. Scientists are only now beginning to understand the mechanisms producing this sensitivity.

In 1959 Goy and Young, with colleagues Charles Phoenix and Arnold Gerall, published the first unambiguous evidence that prenatal exposure to elevated levels of the male sex hormone testosterone masculinized both the reproductive anatomy and behavior of genetically female offspring. This landmark study advanced the argument that the fetal hormonal environment permanently organizes the developing nervous system to produce either masculine or feminine patterns of behavior. This organizational effect of hormones became one of the key concepts in behavioral neuroendocrinology and revolutionized the way in which hormonal influences on behavior were subsequently studied. The concept radically altered views of human sexual development when scientists recognized that human genetic anomalies could alter the natural prenatal hormonal environment and permanently alter an individual's anatomy and behavior.

In 1963, Young's laboratory group moved to the newly established Oregon Regional Primate Research Center outside Portland to expand its sexual differentiation studies to nonhuman primates. To prepare for this next research phase, Goy had been a visiting scientist at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (WRPRC) from 1961 to 1963. At the WRPRC, he studied the measurement of sex differences in juvenile behavior of rhesus monkeys with noted primate psychologist Harry Harlow.

In 1964, Goy, Young, and Phoenix began investigating the effects of prenatal hormone alterations in rhesus monkeys. They produced the first masculinized genetic female rhesus monkey and demonstrated that the principles developed in guinea pigs applied to nonhuman primates and, by extension, to humans. These landmark studies also showed that differences in male and female juvenile rhesus monkeys' social behavior, which occur when the young monkeys are not secreting gonadal hormones, were organized by the prenatal hormone environment. …