Dr. Andrea Gore, professor of pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a two-year, $841,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the transgenerational effects of environmental contaminants on neurological and reproductive development.
The research may help in developing public policy and prevention and wellness intervention programs.
Using rat models, Gore's research focuses on how the brain controls reproduction and the links between the environment and reproductive development in males and females. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she has become well known for research in reproductive neuroendocrinology, especially work on reproductive aging and the long-term and multigenerational effects of prenatal exposure to a class of environmental contaminants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
According to Gore, environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals exposure early in life can reprogram how genes and proteins are expressed in the developing organism, and result in permanent dysfunctions in reproductive development, impaired fertility and hormonally related diseases like obesity and cardiovascular and thyroid disorders.
"Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during critical life stages of development can result in profound neurological and reproductive deficits," said Gore, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Pharmacy.
"Developing organisms, particularly fetuses and infants, are especially vulnerable to endocrine disruption."
The new study, "Transgenerational Epigenetic Effects of PCBs on Neuroendocrine Systems," seeks to understand the mechanisms by which fetal exposures to PCBs cause permanent imprinting changes on gene expression in the brain's hypothalamus region to cause adult dysfunction.
"We also want to find out how these effects are transmitted to subsequent generations," Gore said.
Comparisons will be made among generations of rats to determine the manifestation of transgenerational epigenetic effects and to ascertain the mechanism for transmission.
"We are talking about very low levels of exposure to pesticides that can occur in a mother's routine day-to-day activities," said Gore. "How does this exposure affect future generations?
It's bad enough to think that these exposures are impairing us, but the long-term consequences on children, grandchildren, and beyond, can be devastating."
Endocrine disruption studies are highly relevant to humans, Gore said.
"PCBs are a persistent and continuing problem," she said, "as virtually all living humans have a detectable body burden of PCBs."
Gore received the funding under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Her grant was part of a new initiative called the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research, which focuses on specific knowledge gaps and requires a more strenuous application process.