Tag Archives: estrogen

Summer with GPER

GPER KO Kidney with damage

This summer I worked in Dr. Sarah Lindsey’s lab at Tulane University School of Medicine. Dr. Lindsey’s lab explores the role of the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER) in vascular protection, specifically in relation to postmenopausal cardiovascular disease. At the start of the summer, I was trained in the field of histological pathology. This involves the examination of disease in tissue through techniques like staining and microscopic analysis. I applied different stains to tissues from mice kidneys, hearts, and aortas, to assess the protective effects of GPER in cardiovascular and renal damage in hypertensive mice. We predicted that mice without GPER would show more damage in their tissues than the control mice due to the protective qualities of GPER, specifically its role in the maintenance of extracellular matrices. This project is one of many the lab is conducting investigating the protective characteristics of GPER to judge its potential as a drug target in postmenopausal cardiovascular disease. This research could help alleviate the high levels of arterial stiffening seen in postmenopausal women.


Working with all the great researchers, technicians, and students in the lab this summer has taught me a lot about lab techniques and scientific concepts, but has also opened my eyes to what it is really like to work in a research lab. One of the most important skills I learned to value is patience. Science is vast and ever-growing, but it isn’t fast. I realized that a summer worth of research wouldn’t equate to fulfilling a project in its entirety- it takes time to acquire tissue sections from animals, conduct trials, and troubleshoot errors during experiments. This also means that working together with other members of the lab is crucial. Everyone has different areas of expertise, and they are all willing to contribute their knowledge to other’s projects to make the process run smoothly. I also learned that even though you start a project with a probable hypothesis, it is possible for your findings to reflect something totally different. Regardless, all findings are valuable, even if unexpected.


“Having ownership over a project gives agency to make decisions and learn techniques on your own.”

Working in a research lab is the optimal learning environment due to the flexibility and creativity it allows. In my lab, there are undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians, and a PI. This allows for a hierarchy of knowledge and expertise that provides a very comfortable environment for asking questions and learning from others. There will always be someone around to help if needed, and other projects to follow and learn from. However, there is also the opportunity to work on a unique project of particular interest to you. Having ownership over a project gives agency to make decisions and learn techniques on your own. Additionally, weekly lab meetings allow everyone in the lab to understand what others are working on, ask questions, and offer suggestions. This structure is ideal for those who like to work autonomously when desired, yet still receive aid and feedback when needed. It is a pleasure to be surrounded by such smart, driven people every day.


Ines Aguerre is an undergraduate senior majoring in Neuroscience and Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Ines is conducting cardiovascular and renal research under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Lindsey, an Assistant Professor at Tulane School of Medicine, also in New Orleans, LA. Ines is a recipient of the STRIDE Fellowship, which is funded by the APS and a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). After graduating from Tulane University, Ines plans on attending medical school in the hopes of becoming an MD and conducting more research.
More Than a Powerhouse

Over the summer, I have been conducting research in Dr. Sathish Venkatachalem’s lab at North Dakota State University. Our lab investigates the effects of sex steroid hormones such as estradiol on asthma. Asthma currently affects 1 in 13 people in the United States and results in 14.2 million doctor’s office visits each year.1 In recent years it has been discovered that pre-menopausal women have a higher rate of asthma than men, suggesting a role of hormones (a chemical secreted from glands) in asthma.2 While men have a small amount of estradiol secreted into their bloodstream, pre-menopausal women have much more estradiol which helps to regulate the menstrual cycle among other functions. My project focuses on how different hormones in men and women could have an impact on asthma. My focus is specifically on a specialized structure in cells called mitochondria. Mitochondria are largely known for converting energy into a usable form of adenosine trisphosphate (ATP), but they also play many other roles. For example, mitochondria act as a reservoir for calcium within the cell which is important because calcium is an essential component of contraction, cell signaling, and nerve cell function, among other roles. My hypothesis is that if mitochondria are not functioning properly to buffer calcium, they cannot help with calcium regulation which may cause more contraction in the muscle cells surrounding the lung airway. As a result, the airway could narrow, and breathing could become difficult if not impossible. My project investigates how mitochondria change shape in asthmatic conditions and whether they are working together as a team to regulate calcium in cells. It is crucial for mitochondria to buffer calcium so that proper contraction and relaxation of the lung airways can occur. Proteins called Drp1 and Mfn2 regulate the fusion and fission process between mitochondria and are key in my investigations into mitochondrial morphology. Fusion proteins cause mitochondria to bind together, while fission proteins cause mitochondria to break apart. If too many fission proteins are present in mitochondria it can result in increased breakage and the failure to properly buffer calcium. In the future, mitochondria could be a target for treatment of asthma to reduce contraction and allow a patient to breathe more easily.


Image of mitochondria.

Research is quite different from other punch-in punch-out jobs I have had. Often, experiments demand that you come early or stay late to get results. I have been fortunate to work under a graduate student who has helped me prioritize which experiments need to be done and at what time. Through the summer, I have come across quite a few challenges and I have found that my critical thinking skills have been sharpened because of it. For example, at the beginning of the summer I was trying to identify a certain protein within my mitochondria, but it proved to be elusive at first. Through trial and error, I modified the protocol of the experiment until proper results were obtained. During those weeks, I felt discouraged because it was not exciting to repeat the same experiment multiple times over. However, I learned to problem solve through scientific protocols and I grew as a researcher because of it. The part of my project that I have found the most rewarding is taking images of my mitochondria. Results come quickly because the mitochondria absorb a dye quickly, then they light up under my microscope. I have learned to view the pictures of those mitochondria as art; the bright green squiggles that show up on the imaging screen never fail to amaze me and remind me of what I can do in this field.


Christy pictured in Dr. Sathish Venkatachalem’s lab at North Dakota State University.

Being a scientist in a lab for ten weeks has revealed to me the need for creativity in science. When I did not know how to proceed with an experiment or a result, I had to think outside the box, ask other scientists, or modify the protocol. Some days were exciting because the data turned out very well after many days of work. Other days were packed with processing mitochondrial data in front of a computer. I really enjoyed that my day-to-day experience in the lab was constantly changing due to the different experiments that I had the opportunity to run. I was also surrounded by brilliant scientists and colleagues that were willing to explain a finding to me or sharpen my skill at a certain technique in the lab. I have learned that science needs to be collaborative because many minds combined are better than one. I am grateful to the American Physiological Society for the opportunity to learn these lessons during ten weeks of research this summer.



  1. (2018, April 24). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/default.htm
  2. Sathish V, Martin YN, Prakash YS. Sex steroid signaling: implications for lung diseases. Pharmacology & therapeutics. 2015; 150:94-108.
  3. (2015, April 26). [Image of mitochondria]. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-32434347
Christy Jesme is a senior at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. She is majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry and psychology while working in Dr. Sathish Venkatachalem’s lab. The lab investigates the role of sex steroid signaling on asthma. During the summer of 2018, Christy was awarded the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship funded by the American Physiological Society. She is currently in the process of applying to medical school in hopes of attending classes in the fall of 2019.