Spotlight on Faculty:  Andrea Gore


Most research on female reproduction is focused on the ovaries; the research of Dr. Andrea Gore, UT Austin Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, looks instead at the brain. Although Gore's work does not directly cure diseases, her research shows how the brain works to control reproductive function, extending further knowledge toward the development of therapeutic treatment for disorders in puberty, menopause, and fertility.

It is a little known fact that the brain produces hormones, and that these are the driving force for many endocrine systems, including reproduction. In puberty, for instance, the brain drives this process by releasing hormones only after the body has reached a certain level of maturity, including chronological age and body size. At the beginning of puberty, the brain hormones drive the ovary to release its hormones such as estrogens. The development of sex characteristics at puberty such as breast, genital, and body fat distributional changes, is due to these ovarian estrogens, but these changes would not have occurred without the initial stimulus from the brain. Gore studies how and why this happens, both during puberty, as well as during the other major reproductive life transition, menopause.

Gore came to UT Austin from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where she worked mostly with post-docs and technicians. Here at UT Austin, she has valued the experience of working with graduate students in the lab, noting that projects evolve precisely because of the unique perspectives and interests of the people in the group. In addition, Gore has a group of talented undergraduate students in her laboratory who learn from the graduate students, and in some cases, they may perform their own independent research. Several of her recent undergraduates have even been co-authors on published papers, most recently, a 2007 paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The two major ongoing projects in the Gore Lab explore the mechanisms for brain control of reproduction. For the first project, Gore looks at the ways in which environmental contaminants influence the endocrine system and reproduction, focusing on reproductive maturational processes. In doing this, Gore works primarily with three graduate students: Rebecca Steinberg and Deena Walker from the Institute for Neuroscience, and Sarah Dickerson from the Pharmacology and Toxicology program. Steinberg, who just successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation, developed a research program to look at the ways in which even very low levels of toxicants in utero can have long-term effects. On a related note, Dickerson studies toxicology and endocrine effects, seeking to answer questions about whether the brain’s endocrine cells die, and if so how. And if they don't die, Dickerson poses the further question: what are the consequences?

Gore's second major project tries to understand how the brain changes during reproductive aging as a model for menopause. Studies in the lab compare brain hormone function among animals of different ages, as well as focusing on animals of the same chronological age (e.g., middle age) but differing reproductive function. For this project, she works closely with her students Jackie Maffucci, Di Wu, and Weiling Yin.

When discussing her projects, Gore gives special praise to her graduate students, and she credits working in the lab with them as the best part of being at UT. She admires their energy and creativity, adding: "I am like a kid in a candy store with a great pool of graduate students to choose for my lab."

Because her research studies reproductive cycles which change daily, someone must be present in Gore's lab at all times in order to observe the patterns. This requires great communication and cooperation, which her students consistently display. She notes that her colleagues at UT are also admirably forthcoming in sharing their expertise, time, reagents, and equipment. "If you need help at UT," says Gore, "complete strangers will come to your aid."

She worries, however, about funding for graduate education. Because funding is limited, and labs are cutting back, students worry about sources of funding in the future, and they feel reluctant to pursue a career in the academic sciences. Gore says that funding is necessary to bring in the best and brightest students, which contributes to America's knowledge base and economy, and in turn funds the future of our country. Gore continues to be optimistic, and in fact, she was recently awarded a $1.4 million grant from the NIH to support her research program for another five years. She encourages students to continue to consider academic research as a rewarding and exciting career. “Because they are newer to the field, students are more creative, less predisposed, more able to look at things in a different way.” Thus, Gore says, "They teach me all the time."

By Elisabeth McKetta, April, 2007
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