Molecular and developmental endocrinology
Dr Bert De Groef
Lecturer, College of Science, Health and Engineering
Our research focuses on the role of (neuro)hormones in vertebrate embryonic development, growth and stress, using the chicken and mouse as the main animal models.
Emphasis is on the hormones of the brain (hypothalamus) and pituitary gland and their interactions with hormones of other endocrine systems such as the thyroidal, adrenal (stress) and growth hormone system. We study hormonal actions at the molecular level (DNA, RNA, protein), at the tissue/organ level and at the organismal level.
Commonly used techniques include real-time RT-PCR, gene cloning, combined in situ hybridisation and immunohistochemistry, and in vitro perifusion. This basic research provides a basis for applications in both medicine and animal production.
Below are some examples of current projects.
Biological role of PLAG1
PLAG1 is a gene transcription factor that is responsible for some types of tumours, but its biological role in healthy animals is unknown. Deficiency of this gene causes severe growth retardation and reduced fertility in mice.
Together with Prof. Moira O'Bryan (Monash University), Prof. Maarten van den Buuse (La Trobe University), Dr Matt Hale (La Trobe University), Dr Jacquie Orian (La Trobe University), Dr Pauliina Damdimopoulou (Karolinksa Institute, Sweden) and Prof. Wim van de Ven (KU Leuven, Belgium), we study the biological role of the transcription factor PLAG1. How does PLAG1 affect fertility? What is the significance of the high expression of PLAG1 in the pituitary gland and the brain? What are the target genes of PLAG1 in different organs?
Evolution of the CRHR2 gene
The CRHR2 gene encodes a hormone receptor that is responsible for some of the actions of the neuropeptide corticotropin-releasing hormone or CRH. In the pituitary gland, activation of this receptor stimulates the release of the hormone TSH, but only in non-mammalian vertebrates like salmon, frogs, turtles and chicken - not in mammals.
In collaboration with Prof. Veerle Darras (KU Leuven, Belgium), we investigate the gene regulation and evolutionary history of CRHR2. What drives expression of CRHR2 in TSH cells in non-mammalian species? Why is CRHR2 no longer expressed on the TSH-producing cells in mammals? How and when did this evolutionary change happen? Where do marsupials fit in this story?