Environmental & Developmental Mechanisms of Health and Disease

Environmental toxicants, pollutants, and chemicals can profoundly affect health and disease. Together with an individual’s genome and other influences (social, behavioral, hormonal), exposures to exogenous environmental factors predispose for cancer, endocrine disorders, and neurobehavioral and physiological disturbances. Developmental exposure is particularly problematic due to the propensity of toxicants to cause epigenetic, genetic, and molecular reprogramming changes that set the stage for subsequent disease. Faculty in this collaborative research area have a common goal of determining effects of environmental exposures on physiology, pathophysiology, and behavior, and deciphering the underlying cellular, biochemical, and molecular responses.

Group Leader

Dr. Andrea Gore

Andrea C. Gore, Ph.D.

Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology
Vacek Chair in Pharmacology
Studies effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on the neuroendocrine control of reproduction and behavior.

Faculty Participants: College of Pharmacy

DeMorrow, Sharon., Ph.D.

Research program broadly focuses on the neurological changes associated with either acute liver failure or chronic liver disorders. These alterations range from changes in neuropeptide hormone expression to severe cognitive impairment and hepatic coma (termed hepatic encephalopathy). Determining the signaling molecules released from an impaired liver that may alter brain function is a focus of ongoing studies.

DiGiovanni, John D., Ph.D.

Focuses on understanding how cancer develops and on the identification of novel targets, mechanisms and strategies for cancer prevention.

Fonken, Laura K., Ph.D.

Research concentrates in the areas of circadian rhythms, neuroimmunology, and aging. Current experiments focus on how exposure to environmental disruptors across the life span influence susceptibility to neuroinflammation and stress-related disorders.

Mukhopadhyay, Somshuvra, M.B.B.S., Ph.D.

A major goal of Mukhopadhyay’s research is to understand how gene-environment interactions alter neuronal physiology to induce parkinsonian disorders.

Nixon, Kimberly, Ph.D.

Research focuses on novel mechanisms of and drug discovery for alcoholic neuropathology. This two-prong approach of novel target identification coupled with drug discovery has allowed us to make seminal discoveries in new mechanisms that contribute to brain damage and recovery in alcohol use disorders, then use those discoveries to drive the development of novel approaches for the treatment of alcohol use disorders.

Richburg, John H., Ph.D.

Characterizes the molecular and cellular mechanisms that initiate testicular germ cells to undergo apoptosis after injury by environmental or chemotherapeutic agents.

Vasquez, Karen, Ph.D.

Research efforts are focused in the areas of genome instability, DNA damage and mechanisms of repair. A unique feature of this lab’s approach is an emphasis on the role of DNA structure in human disease and the development of novel therapeutic strategies for treating cancer.

Van Den Berg, Carla, Pharm.D.

Research focuses on the role of growth factor-mediated treatment resistance in breast cancer.

Photo of Dr. Som Mukhopadhyay with dark backdrop and text overlay that reads "Parkinson Gene Link"

Dr. Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, led the research team that focused on the gene SLC30A10 and its role as a “door opener” in helping to remove elevated levels of manganese from cells.
Read more about Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s research.

Faculty Participants: College of Natural Sciences

Agarwala, Seema, Ph.D.

Studies are directed at the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neural tube closure. During this process, a flat neural plate rolls up and fuses to form a closed neural tube. When this process goes awry, neural tube defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida can result. These defects are among the leading causes of congenital malformations and affect 1-5/1000 pregnancies.

Crews, David, Ph.D.

Research focused on the newly emerging field of environmental epigenetics that indicates an individual’s likelihood of developing health problems involves a combination of that individual’s own exposures to agents in the environment as well as exposures of ancestors in generations past. Reptiles are used as a model organism to take advantage of the fact that the sex of the offspring depends on the incubation temperature of the egg, a process known as temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD).

Hofmann, Hans, Ph.D.

Research is centered on the investigation of the causes of consequences of variation in physiology and behavior across individuals and species. Our research uses behavioral, neurobiological, molecular, genomic, and bioinformatics approaches to unravel the neuromolecular mechanisms that give rise to social behavior and to understand how these mechanisms have evolved across vertebrate animals.

Phelps, Steve, Ph.D.

Studies the evolution of the social brain. We use tools from neuroscience, molecular genetics & evolutionary biology to understand the natural diversity of animal behavior and its mechanisms.

Faculty Participants: University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis and Epigenetics

Bratton, Shawn B., Ph.D.

Focused on two basic areas of research: apoptosis and autophagy and their role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease and cancer.

Faculty Participants: College of Liberal Arts

Dominguez, Juan M., Ph.D.

Research is focused on the investigation of the the neural-endocrine regulation of motivated behaviors; using mating behavior as a prototypic model to better understand motivation and its associated disorders, especially the neuroendocrinological factors that regulate depression and addiction.