Sandra Peterson also does research, mostly about brain signals that influence ovulation. Research in her lab focuses on three main things, one of which being the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie the brain signals that control ovulation. When ovary follicles mature, they begin to release estradiol. This release of estradiol triggers signals that activate hormone neurons, which then activates the release of luteinizing hormone from the pituitary gland. In order to trigger the signals, the estradiol targets specialized neurons called GABA/Glutamate neurons. The luteinizing hormone is what actually triggers ovulation. In her lab, they are currently researching how estradiol and daily signals work together to change the rates of GABA in vivo and in vitro.
Her lab also researches the developmental mechanisms responsible for sex differences in the brain that cause ovulation. The differences in the brains that are most visible can be seen with the GABA/Glutamate neurons. Her team’s work suggests that female brains have twice as many GABA/Glutamate neurons than male brains. They also discovered that exposing the GABA/Glu neurons to testosterone around birth reduces the ability the release the luteinizing hormones. Lastly, her lab focuses on how environmental contaminants can interfere with the the development of the brain region that controls the release of gonadotropins. The main contaminant that her lab focuses on is dioxins. Dioxins are very strong environmental pollutants that come from manufacturing processes. They recently found that dioxins can bind to the GABA/Glutamate neurons and cause males to retain the female neuroanatomy.