PhD, University of North Carolina, 1991
The goal of sexual reproduction is to combine the genomes of two individuals, passing DNA on to the next generation and creating a new, genetically distinct individual. We study fundamental cell biological processes in the sperm and egg, with research in two general areas.
(1) A crucial component of reproductive success is ensuring that cells inherit the correct amount of DNA. Our investigations in this area focus on how the egg membrane and cortical cytoskeleton regulate the fidelity of the female gamete's handling of DNA.
One project in this area is focused on the egg cortex (i.e., the cortical region of the cell, just underlying the plasma membrane). The egg cortex plays roles in multiple critical functions, such as progression through meiosis, responses to sperm, and regulation of activation and developmental potential. In all cells, one of most fundamental functions of the cortex is the regulation of the cell's shape and mechanical properties. With Doug Robinson in the Department of Cell Biology in the School of Medicine, we have been examining the mechanical properties of oocytes and eggs and have found that cortical tension changes dramatically as the egg progresses through meiosis and fertilization. Our work has also revealed that actin, myosin-II, and a protein family known as ERMs (an acronym that refers to the individual family members) play key roles in regulating cortical tension in eggs; disruption of function of any of these proteins results in a decrease in cortical tension. Interestingly, this also leads to abnormalities during meiotic cytokinesis occurring in response to fertilization, suggesting that cortical mechanics are critical for the egg's completion of meiosis.
A second project examines how the egg membrane prevents fertilization by more than one sperm. This is known as the membrane block to polyspermy, which works in conjunction with other mechanisms to prevent polyspermic fertilization. Polyspermic fertilization is thought to be the cause of at least 5% of spontaneous pregnancy losses in humans. However, very little is known about the membrane block to polyspermy in mammalian eggs, despite data dating back up 90 years that provide evidence for its existence. Our work has characterized the role of post-fertilization calcium signaling in the establishment of the membrane block (including collaborative studies with Carmen Williams [NIEHS] and Rafael Fissore [University of Massachusetts]), and we also have been examining the role of the egg cytoskeleton in regulating membrane receptivity to sperm.
(2) Fertilization is the process by which the gametes, the carriers of individual's genetic contributions to the next generation, merge to create the zygote. This union involves a series of carefully orchestrated cellular interactions, mediated by multiple molecules on the surfaces of the sperm and egg. Our lab has studied the molecular basis of gamete membrane interactions (adhesion and fusion) with studies of gamete interaction molecules on the sperm and on the egg. This research are also complements the studies of the membrane block to polyspermy noted above, as both lines of work are providing insights into the mechanisms underlying egg receptivity to sperm.
Honors and Awards
Young Andrologist Award, 2006; given by the American Society of Andrology for significant contributions to the field of andrology by an individual less than 45 years of age.
Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health – induction spring 2013
SOURCE [Student Outreach Resource Center] Faculty Fellows Program, 2014-2015
Johns Hopkins Medicine Leadership Program for Women Faculty, 2014-2015
Distinguished Service Award, 2017, American Society of Andrology
Selected leadership activities:
Society for the Study of Reproduction, President, 2018-2019; Board of Directors, 2007-2010; co-chair of the Program Committee for the 2013 Annual Meeting in Montreal, Quebec.
American Society of Andrology, Executive Council, 2001-4; Treasurer, 2005-2008; co-chair of the Program Committee for the 2012 Annual Meeting in Tucson, Arizona.
Gordon Conference on Fertilization and Activation of Development, vice chair for 2009, chair for 2011.