Investigating changes in gene expression that affect heart rate during pregnancy

Summer 2018

Catherine Jung : Molecular Environmental Biology

Mentor: Vasanth Vedantham

In normal pregnancies, cardiac output increases to accommodate increased metabolic demand. There are changes in pacemaker cells that cause an increase in resting heart rate. Currently, the mechanisms that connect changes in hormones to changes in gene expression in pacemaker cells are unknown. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to an increase in heart rate in pregnancies could provide insight on how to prevent cardiovascular complications in pregnancies.
For my project, I will be studying changes in gene expression between pregnant and non-pregnant mice. Through laser capture microdissection, I will be able to isolate sinus nodes and sequence the RNA of pacemaker cells from these mice. I will also be collecting heart rate data from pregnant and non-pregnant mice through surgically implanted transmitters. This will allow me to assess heart rate dynamics in fully awake pregnant mice throughout all stages of pregnancy. My project aims to connect gene expression changes to sinus physiology, so that in future, I will be able to understand how changes in gene expression lead to hormonal changes in pregnancy.

I would like to thank Rose Hills Foundation for providing me this opportunity. This fellowship has been transformative in my experience doing research; it allowed me to begin a multi-phase project that I will continue throughout the rest of my undergraduate career. I became a lot more confident after this experience, because I was able to independently conduct my project. While my PI did help me brainstorm my initial research question and sent me some articles to guide me in the beginning, most of the actual lab work was done by myself. Prior to this summer, I didn't feel like I could come to lab frequently enough to get my project going. However, because I was able to work on my project full-time during the summer, I accomplished a significant portion of my project already. I am now moving forward onto the next phase of my project this fall. It is because I did cardiovascular research this summer that I now want to become a cardiologist in the future.