Diana Leslie Cornejo

Understanding Neuroendocrine Mechanisms Underlying the Impact of Stress on Pregnancy

Chronic stress has been shown to have lasting and damaging effects on an individuals physical and mental health. One of the avenues of life that stress can impact significantly is female fertility and reproductive success. Prenatal stress leads to lower birth weights of fetuses, decreased success rate of full-term pregnancies, and delayed development. Although studies have established the role in which cortisol, the main hormone released during stress, is secreted by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and plays an integral role in the neuroendocrine stress response, little is known regarding how stress hormones interact with the neural pathways in the hypothalamus to negatively influence pregnancy outcomes. In the hypothalamus, RFamide-related peptide-3 (RFRP-3), inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons, providing a potential mechanistic link between stress and fertility outcomes. Through the expansion of preliminary findings of past projects in the lab, our focus is to uncover how chronic stress suppresses progesterone and hinders pregnancy success. Specifically, the question I am asking is whether RFRP-3 neurons mediate the effects of stress on pregnancy outcomes by regulating prolactin secretion; prolactin is critical for progesterone regulation, and prolactin levels predict miscarriage in humans. Over the summer, I will analyze the histology of the different zones of the placentae, along with quantifying gene expression data in an effort to identify specific genes that are mediating the impact of stress on the developing fetus. The implications of my research will aid in identifying clinical targets to mitigate the impact of stress on pregnancy outcomes.

Message to Sponsor

To the Rose Hills Foundation: thank you for allowing me to explore my interests in reproductive endocrinology. Throughout my experience in research, I have learned topics and details beyond the scope of any class I have yet taken. I immersed myself into the topic and researched any question or curiosity that came to my mind, and that freedom is what I enjoy most about research. I have gained countless skills as well as a wealth of knowledge that entices me to continue my growth as a Latina scholar. Thanks to my experience in the SURF program, I am eager to continue my education and research with the hope of pursuing a professional career in medicine. I have gained confidence in pursuing new avenues of research, and have also acquired a sense of independence in the lab where I find myself not being afraid or shy to ask questions, but excited to hear what others have to say about my research. SURF has truly been a capstone in my undergraduate career that has shaped my identity as a female Latina scientist who is fascinated by reproduction and its implications to womens health.
  • Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Sponsor: Rose Hills Experience
  • Mentor: Neta Gotlieb