February 01, 2014

Suzanne Moenter, PhD: Scientist, dog trainer, gardener

Suzanne Moenter, PhD
What is the focus of your current research?

We study how the brain regulates fertility. In particular, we study a type of neuron called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons. These cells integrate information from a wide variety of inputs such as nutrition, stress, and other hormones and then send signals both to the reproductive system via the pituitary gland and also back into the brain to fine tune processes.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The breadth of the work is one thing that appeals to me. We study topics as varied as the physics of how neurons generate activity with different patterns, to how prenatal exposure to various factors alters fertility in adulthood. Then we get to try to fit all the individual pieces of the puzzle into an overall picture of how the system works. 

What are the practical implications for health care?

Infertility affects about 20 percent of couples and a considerable portion of that involves malfunction of GnRH neurons. For example, about 10 percent of women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and in these women the release of GnRH happens too rapidly for the downstream system to operate in an optimal fashion. Other disorders such as early puberty also  are due to problems with GnRH neurons. 

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I train my dogs for obedience and agility competition, hike, garden, and I love to cook (and eat).

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

You learn more when your hypotheses are wrong. That really makes you think outside the box and destroys dogma.

What was the last book you read?

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Who or what inspires you?

My students. Training graduate students is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. Each one has different backgrounds and goals. Helping them to achieve those goals, while mentoring them on hypothesis (idea) generation, designing the best way to test the hypothesis, how to consider their results in the context of the larger scientific literature, and presenting their work in both written and oral forms to a variety of audiences, is extremely rewarding. These skills are universal and apply in most professions.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?



 An astronomer, but I was told girls didn’t become scientists.