Postdoctoral fellow
Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology
University of Liège

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Who is Delphine Franssen?

I am a Belgian postdoctoral fellow in the Neuroendocrinology laboratory of the University of Liege in Belgium. I obtained my PhD in Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Liege with a thesis focused on the impact of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) on the hypothalamic control of female puberty. I pursued my neuroendocrinology research in the laboratory of Professor Tena-Sempere in the University of Cordoba in Spain where I studied the metabolic control of female reproduction. Now that I am back in Belgium in the laboratory of Professor Parent, my research aims to decipher the impact of EDCs on female reproduction. Apart from the lab, I love hitting the ball on a court and I’m always ready to pack my bags and discover new horizons (even if for the moment it’s quite compromised).

What is your focus in the FREIA project?

While most of the actors of FREIA project decipher the impact of EDCs on gonads or peripheral organs, I focus my studies on the brain, and more precisely on the hypothalamus. Reproduction and puberty are controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. The release of GnRH by hypothalamic neurons is pulsatile with a specific frequency that will influence hormonal release until sex steroids from gonads. My role in FREIA is to identify the impact of EDC exposure on GnRH secretion and on its hypothalamic regulators expression.

Can you give an example of an interesting result you have obtained so far?

After perinatal exposure to two EDCs, diethylstilbestrol and ketoconazole, I have observed a delay in the GnRH interpulse interval in prepubertal female rats. This indicates a delay in the hypothalamic maturation of the GnRH release, as a developmental acceleration of GnRH pulsatile release is physiologically observed before puberty. Those data were consistent with the delayed pubertal timing indicated by the examination of age at vaginal opening in the female offspring. We are now analysing RNA expression of hypothalamic regulators to identify pathways through which EDCs alter GnRH release and puberty. We have recently developed 6 putative Adverse Outcome Pathways in a review that will be published in the following weeks (see last question).

What would you like to accomplish within the FREIA project?

FREIA project aims to develop more accurate methods to identify EDCs that could alter female fertility before these products go on the market or to remove some of them. Being part of this project makes me proud. Currently, I see many friends facing fertility issues and how hard it can be to manage this situation. I hope that my research can contribute to an improvement of women’s health.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting you/your work?

Part of my work for FREIA has to be performed in Copenhagen (DTU). Travelling with the covid situation induces uncertainty and more preparation. However, I stay optimistic as everyone in this collaboration does his/her best to pursue the project and experiments as we planned.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the people following FREIA?

In the next weeks, we will publish a review proposing six putative Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs) that could explain how EDCs disrupt pubertal timing by interfering with the central hypothalamic trigger of puberty, GnRH neurons. By doing so, we highlight specific modes of action that could be targeted for the development of alternative test method to identify EDCs altering female health.