UMass Biologist Receives Grant for Research into Sex Hormones

AMHERST — UMass Amherst biologist Sandra Petersen has received nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue two areas of research: investigating the hormones involved in inducing ovulation and research into the genes in the developing brain that are regulated by both sex hormones and the environmental contaminant dioxin.

“Fewer than 2,000 nerve cells in the brain make the hormone that gives the go-ahead to the pituitary gland, said Petersen, “but how the neural signal happens has been unclear. We recently identified a novel type of multi-tasking neuron that provides the missing link in this communication pathway.” With the NIH funding Petersen will investigate how estrogen and the light and dark cycle regulate these novel neurons and trigger the signal for ovulation.

Petersen’s second grant is for $433,000 over three years and will fund research identifying genes responsible for the development of sex differences in a number of these multi-tasking neurons. Her research group will also determine how exposure to dioxins during fetal life interferes with estrogen action necessary for these sex differences.