Name: Dr. Andrea Gore
Title: The Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Professor in the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Years at the university: It will be seven years in December
1985: A.B. Princeton University (Biology, cum laude)
1990: Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Neuroscience)
1991-1995: Postdoctoral Fellow, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York (Molecular Neuroendocrinology)
Hometown: Tappan, N.Y.
What is your research focus?
I have two related research projects, both of which address the question of how the brain controls reproduction. Most people, when thinking about reproduction, do not realize that the brain itself produces hormones. The part of the brain I study, the hypothalamus, serves as an interface between the central nervous system and the endocrine systems. The hypothalamic neurons I study are responsible for reproductive development, maturation, fertility and aging (including menopause).
Can you describe the specific research projects you’re working on?
My first research project poses the question: what role does the brain play in menopause? Most work to date has focused on the ovary as being the primary site of reproductive failure. However, considering that the brain plays a primary role in the control of reproduction during development and adulthood, I questioned whether the brain (hypothalamus) may also be involved in this reproductive transition. The second research project in my lab is investigating the links between the environment and the neural control of reproductive development in males and females. Normally, there are sex differences in hormones, and these differences determine whether the brain and body develop in a male- or female-typical manner. We are performing experiments to study how the environment affects these normal developmental patterns. The question we are asking here is whether, and how, endocrine-disrupting chemicals may perturb sex differences of the brain that develop early in life.
Why did you become interested in studying reproduction and the brain?
I first became fascinated with hormones and behavior in high school. At that time, I even became interested in endocrinology based on my budding knowledge about how hormones exert a variety of biological actions that are responsible for survival of the individual and the species. In college, I had to choose between my interests in biology and music (violin, piano, voice, guitar). Ultimately I decided to major in biology at Princeton. As an undergraduate, I performed independent research in a biology lab for two years, focusing on mate choice in female hamsters, and I loved it. I made a leap of faith in applying to graduate programs in neuroscience, because I did not have an undergraduate background in this area, but that turned out to be an excellent match for my interests.
Did you feel research in your area was lacking?
Yes, I feel that both of my research areas were very under-studied when I first became a neuroendocrinologist. There was very little research on the role of the brain in reproductive aging and menopause. Until we understand all of the basic biological processes underlying the control of reproduction, we cannot treat disorders such as premature menopause or infertility. The research area of endocrine disruption of the brain was also in its infancy when I began my research program. This was surprising to me because at the time it was known that endocrine disruptors can interfere with reproduction, and further, that endocrine disruptors can have neurobiological actions.
Have you reached any hard conclusions? If so, what are they?
For my work on the neural control of menopause, my research shows significant age related changes in the structure of the part of the hypothalamus where reproductive hormones are released. One exciting finding is that in the aging rat brain, there is a progressive disorganization of the base of the hypothalamus, where hormones of reproduction (and many other hormones) are released. This may explain why so many endocrine systems beyond reproduction are perturbed. For my work on endocrine disruption, we have made several important discoveries. We published evidence that the expression of hypothalamic genes and proteins are permanently disrupted in adulthood due to fetal exposure to very low levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This in turn is linked to dysfunctions in reproductive physiology and behavior. We also have evidence that the grandchildren of the exposed rats also are affected. They have abnormal hormonal cycles.
How does your research in this area relate to everyday people?
All of my research is biomedically relevant. We are using rats to model the processes going on in people. The hormones of reproduction are virtually identical in all mammals due to evolutionary conservation. Our research program on reproductive aging is relevant to all women. Every woman will eventually undergo menopause, and while this is a normal process, it can be associated with dysfunctions and discomfort. As for endocrine disruptors, every human has exposure to these compounds. Studies measuring how much of these chemicals we have accumulated in our bodies show that every human studied to date has some level of endocrine disruptor.