Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2016

Science Days fest showcases trainees and research across NIEHS

The 14th annual NIEHS Science Days celebrated scientific research across the institute, organized around a minisymposium on nuclear hormone receptors.

In the spirit of One NIEHS, speakers included researchers and trainees (see text box) from the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) and the Division of the National Toxicology Program (DNTP), as well as a grantee and a former trainee who now directs her own lab. For the first time, grant experts from the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) hosted a session dedicated to the grants process.

Scientists throughout the institute presented nearly 100 posters during the Nov. 3-4 festival. Organizers gave awards for best trainee talk and poster, and mentor and trainee of the year (see story in this issue).

Spotlight on trainees

“Science Days gives us a chance to spotlight trainees and give them opportunities to present their research in talks and posters,” said Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., special assistant to the NIEHS Scientific Director and lead organizer of the event.

Abramowitz highlighted the new offerings from DERT grant experts. They staffed a resource room for individuals with further questions on grants and gave three talks.

  • Janice Allen, Ph.D., discussed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer review process.
  • Mike Humble, Ph.D., presented the types of NIH grants available.
  • Dan Shaughnessy, Ph.D., shared details of the program officers’ work.

“We wanted to provide our trainees the same information that we share at scientific society meetings,” explained Kimberly McAllister, Ph.D., who organized the presentations.

Nuclear hormone receptors mediate environmental impacts

The theme of the science talks was nuclear hormone receptors as mediators of environmental impacts on the body. This family of transcription factors, which regulate gene expression, can be disrupted by chemicals that mimic hormones or by diseases that alter hormonal signaling, such as obesity and diabetes.

“The minisymposium really shows the breadth of NIEHS research,” said Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. “We heard outstanding scientists talk about state-of-the-art topics and novel approaches to understanding how the environment affects our health.”

One invited speaker, Anton Jetten, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Immunity, Inflammation and Disease Laboratory (IIDL), was unable to present his talk due to illness.

Sex differences in endocrine disruptors

NIEHS grantee Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University, studies how endocrine disruptors affect the sexes differently. “We and others have reported behavioral effects of developmental BPA [bisphenol A] exposure, including elevated anxiety and exploratory behavior, and many of those effects are sexually dimorphic,” she explained.

Her team uses prairie voles because their social behavior is closer to that of humans than other animal models. Timing of exposure is important, she explained, because exposures and bodies change dramatically throughout life. In future research, Patisaul wants to further study timing and focus on the placenta as a target for the chemicals.

Endometriosis, BPA, and BPAF

NIEHS grantee and former NIEHS trainee Katie Burns, Ph.D., now at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, studies connections between endocrine disruptor exposure and endometriosis. Her recent research focuses on exposure to bisphenol AF (BPAF), a substitute for BPA used in products advertised as BPA-free.

Burns uses a mouse model of endometriosis, which she developed as an NIEHS trainee, to compare how BPA and BPAF influence endometriosis. Her findings are consistent with other researchers who have shown that BPAF is more estrogenic than BPA. That may explain her early results, which showed that BPAF increases the size of endometrial lesions. In future studies, Burns hopes to characterize the molecular processes involved.

Computational approaches speed chemical screening

“Now I’m going to take you up to the 30,000-foot view, to figure out how we tackle the fact that we are living in a sea of chemicals,” said Nicole Kleinstreuer, Ph.D., deputy director of the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods.

Computational toxicology enables scientists to study more chemicals faster, and with fewer animals, than with traditional approaches. Specifically, Kleinstreuer addressed uses for predictive models of hormone signaling pathways, especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of new endocrine assays. “This is the first time any regulatory agency has accepted high throughput screening data and computational model output as an alternative to an animal test,” Kleinstreuer said. “That’s pretty exciting.”


Daniel Shaughnessy Shaughnessy helped set an informal atmosphere in the resource room. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Tracy Clement Research Fellow Tracy Clement, Ph.D., left, took advantage of the DERT resource room. Carol Shreffler, Ph.D., right, directs DERT Training and Career Development Programs. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Nicole Kleinstreuer Kleinstreuer said computational methods are useful for both quantitative and qualitative approaches for determining a chemical’s potential toxicity hazards. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Hall, Zeldin, Balbus, Schug From right, Clinical Director Janet Hall, M.D.; Zeldin; Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D.; and Thad Schug, Ph.D., from DERT, took in the day’s presentations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Yao and Janoshazi Biologist Agnes Janoshazi, Ph.D., right, discusses with Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., head of the Reproductive and Developmental Biology group, her use of a new fluorescence method to study low concentration proteins. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Brandi Baughman Brandi Baughman, Ph.D., hosted one of the minisymposium sessions. A former postdoc in the Inositol Signaling Group, she has a new position with Adivo Associates. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Trainee talks represent breadth of NIEHS research

Trainees from NIEHS laboratories, branches, and research programs presented science ranging from epidemiology and clinical studies to cell signaling and DNA repair.

Mahita Kadmiel, Ph.D., an Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory, won the best talk award for her discussion of how glucocorticoids, a class of steroid hormones, operate in the eye. She showed that glucocorticoids are critical for proper formation of the cornea.

Sara Andres, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, described how Ctp1, a protein involved in repairing DNA double-strand breaks, forms filaments that are critical for repair. Environmental exposures ranging from sunlight to chemicals damage DNA. If not repaired correctly, DNA damage can lead to diseases such as cancer.

Natasha Catlin, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in DNTP, shared her work on the dietary supplement vinpocetine, which is marketed as a memory-enhancing compound. She is evaluating whether exposure to the supplement in animals during development leads to effects in the offspring.

Vanessa Flores, M.D., an Undergraduate Scholarship Program fellow in the Clinical Research Branch, discussed the Body Weight and Puberty Study. By using breast ultrasound and other more robust methods, researchers hope to clarify whether obesity is linked with earlier breast development. Recruitment is ongoing.

Kaitlyn Gam, a predoctoral IRTA fellow in the Epidemiology Branch, is filling research gaps on the health of workers involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response by studying lung function in relation to exposures to oil and dispersants.

Takuyu Hashiguchi, Ph.D., a special volunteer in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory, studies a process known as phosphorylation, in the DNA-binding domain of nuclear receptors. That domain is found in 41 of the 46 human nuclear receptors and appears to be involved in communication and coordination among nuclear receptors.

Jackson Hoffman, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Lab, is studying how the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) interacts with chromatin remodelers, which open portions of condensed DNA, known as chromatin, so GR can influence gene expression in response to hormones. GR is involved in diabetes, hormone-dependent cancers, and other diseases.

Kilsoo Jeon, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in IIDL, demonstrated how the Glis-3 transcription factor regulates transcription of certain genes in early development. This regulation influences development of cells that will become neurons involved in dopamine signaling. His findings could have implications for Parkinson’s and other diseases.

Natale Sciolino, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurobiology Laboratory, used a mouse model that mimics a key neural signature of toxicant exposure to demonstrate that, in a region of the brain called the locus coeruleus, disruption of neurons involved in norepinephrine signaling affects appetite.

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