Get to know SANS exco: Dr Lihle Qulu

Lihle Qulu

As a continuation of our ‘Get to Know your SANS EXCO Members’ webinar series, we introduce Dr Lihle Qulu, SANS co-chair, on Friday 6 August at 13h00. The title of Dr Qulu’s webinar is Why do Men Rape? A Translational Approach.


South Africa has been named the “rape capital of the world” with 114 rape cases reported daily between 2018-2019. Sexual violence against women is a major international public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. The HPA axis is dysregulated due to trauma or chronic stress, it results in a glucocorticoid imbalance, which often results in decreased release of oxytocin (OXT), crippling OXT’s ability to attenuate the HPA-axis’ action. There is a dearth of translational studies which have explored the physiology of both the victim and perpetrator of sexual assault. We combined the Sexual Conspecific Aggressive Response (SCAR) model with a four-day sexual defeat protocol. Social isolation was used to dysregulate the HPA-axis and induce aggressive behaviour in Sprague- Dawley male rats. Briefly, Virgin male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed to either group housing or social isolation concurrently for seven days. After this the resident-intruder test was used to assess aggressive behaviour. These males were then exposed to females in oestrus, and upon the second intromission the female in oestrus was removed and replaced with a female not in oestrus. This model was repeated for a total of four days after which the resident-intruder test was repeated. After the resident-intruder paradigm, the social dominance tube test was used to assess social deficits in the male rats, while the forced swim test was performed on the females to assess depressive-like behaviour. Systemic concentrations of corticosterone and OXT in male rats, and systemic corticosterone in female rats were 3 measured. Our findings showed that social isolation resulted in increased sexual aggression towards females which also culminated in increased aggression towards male intruders and social deficits. These findings were accompanied by high OXT levels observed in the group housed males in comparison to the isolated sexual defeating males. Female rats showed depressive-like behaviour and increased systemic corticosterone levels. This study was translated and conducted on human convicted rapist from Westville prison (KwaZulu-Natal South Africa). Our findings show that exposure to trauma may play a role in sexual aggression of convicted male rapists.

Dr Qulu bio:

Dr Lihle Qulu did her undergraduate studies at the University of Zululand and pursued her post graduate degrees at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Lihle conducted part of her PhD at the John Hopkins Institute in Calgary Canada. After completion of her PhD, she spent time in Germany Regensburg University in Professor Inga Nuemann’s lab where she received training on the sexual defeat animal model. Lihle became a full-time lecture at UKZN in 2016 and she is currently a senior lecture at Stellenbosch University in the department of Human Physiology. Lihle is the Co-Chair of SANS.