NIEHS scientists stand out at TCRB meeting
By Shannon Whirledge
The Triangle Consortium for Reproductive Biology (TCRB) held its 24th annual meeting March 14 at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park. Researchers and trainees from throughout North Carolina came together to exchange scientific knowledge on many aspects of mammalian reproduction.
NIEHS scientists made a strong showing at the event. Janet Hall, M.D., with the NIEHS clinical research program, gave one of three invited presentations. Also, three of the four trainee posters chosen for oral presentation were by NIEHS fellows (see text box).
Carmen Williams, M.D., Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Reproductive Medicine Group, emphasized the value of trainees meeting with regional researchers. “It’s a great experience for trainees to get feedback from peers, locally,” she said. “It helps them prepare for more formal conferences and interviews, as well.”
Vitamin D affects pregnancy outcomes
Genevieve Neal-Perry, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Washington, delivered the keynote address, discussing her work on vitamin D deficiency and reproductive success. She noted that deficiency is prevalent in the U.S., affecting two out of three women.
Neal-Perry has found that chronic deficiency in mice leads to reduced fertility, in part through increases in oxidative stress in ovaries and poor health of egg cells. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss, and infants born small for gestational age.
Provocative presentations by regional researchers
Three regional researchers shared thought-provoking presentations. Anne Steiner, M.D., associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), shared her work on the UNC Time to Conceive study. By following women as they attempt to conceive, Steiner has been able to assess biomarkers that can predict a woman’s reproductive potential and examine exposures that may negatively impact female fertility.
Jay Kaplan, Ph.D., professor of pathology and translational medicine at Wake Forest University, and Hall both spoke on changes in women’s health associated with aging.
According to Hall, women have increased risk for depression and cognitive deficits during the perimenopausal period, due to changing ovarian hormones. Using neuroimaging studies, she has found that the timing of estrogen replacement is critical. The activation of key regions involved in working memory and executive function is significantly greater in perimenopausal women receiving long-term treatment, suggesting women and doctors may need to take a proactive approach to hormone replacement.
Kaplan noted that menopause and the corresponding changes in ovarian hormones are associated with sex differences in prevalence of cardiovascular disease. Kaplan took issue with the view that women are protected by hormones from coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis. Instead, he said, “women are not protected, just delayed.” His studies have shown that ovarian dysfunction and psychological stress in the premenopausal period can promote progression of early coronary artery atherosclerosis.
NIEHS trainees shine during poster presentations
For the second year, the Campion Fund, supported by The Phyllis and Mark Leppert Foundation for Fertility Research, provided awards for best oral and poster presentation, and for the second time, both awardees were NIEHS trainees.
Alisa Suen was selected for the best oral presentation (see text box), and Kristen Upson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Women’s Health Group headed by Donna Baird, Ph.D., won for best poster.
(Shannon Whirledge, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Molecular Endocrinology Group.)
Oral presentations by NIEHS trainees
Barbara Nicol, Ph.D., presented “Gonadal Identity in the Absence of Pro-Testis Factor SOX9 and Pro-Ovary Factor b-Catenin.” She was one of three National Institutes of Health (NIH) fellows selected for the prestigious WSA Scholar award by the NIH Women Scientist Advisors (WSA) Committee, and she presented a lecture on her research March 20 at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. Nicol works in the NIEHS Reproductive Developmental Biology Group headed by Humphrey Yao, Ph.D.
Ajeet Singh, Ph.D., presented “Brg1-Inactivation After Implantation Induced Apoptosis and Growth-Arrest.” He is a visiting fellow in the NIEHS Chromatin and Gene Expression Group led by Trevor Archer, Ph.D.
Alisa Suen presented “Aberrant SIX1 Expression May Contribute to the Development of Uterine Adenocarcinoma Following Neonatal Xenoestrogen Exposure,” which won best oral presentation. She is a predoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Reproductive Medicine Group headed by Carmen Williams, M.D., Ph.D.