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Common pathological conditions including osteoporosis and osteoarthritis afflict women at a 2-6X higher incidence highlighting a sexual dimorphism in musculoskeletal and craniofacial diseases. In particular, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) degeneration, characterized by decreased cellularity and matrix degradation of the mandibular condylar fibrocartilage, is prevalent in women over 50. It is well established that estrogen exhibits profound impacts on the structure and function of musculoskeletal tissues. In young individuals, the hormone promotes growth plate fusion to halt bone growth during puberty. On the other hand, loss of estrogen during menopause has implications in cartilage and bone degeneration leading to osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, respectively. While the role of estrogen signaling has been widely studied in bone and hyaline cartilage, there is a limited understanding of estrogenâ€™s role on fibrocartilage growth and homeostasis. Thus, my work investigates the hypothesis that estrogen signaling via estrogen receptor alpha (ERÎ±) promotes homeostasis of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) condylar fibrocartilage in female murine models. I will discuss the important role estrogen plays through this main signaling receptor on chondrogenesis and the inhibition of matrix degradation utilizing microbiology techniques, extracellular matrix property analysis, and functional bite force assays. Further, I will highlight the exciting avenues of future study in developing inductive biomaterials that utilize estrogen receptor modulators to promote regeneration via chondrogenesis and inhibit fibrocartilage degeneration. Elucidating the role of estrogen-signaling on fibrocartilage remodeling and homeostasis will enable the development of targeted therapeutics and tissue engineering strategies to promote regeneration and combat irreversible degeneration with implications in other soft and hard tissues for multiple musculoskeletal and craniofacial applications.
Jennifer Robinson is currently a NIH NRSA F32 postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University. Jennifer received her B.S. in Bioengineering from Rice University in 2009 and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2014. Her research interests lie in deciphering the role sex hormones play on orthopedic and craniofacial tissue structure and function and developing inductive biomaterials to promote regeneration of complex tissues by modulating hormone signaling. Her research has been recognized by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, PEO Scholar Award, poster awards at both the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine annual meeting and the Columbia University Postdoc Research Symposium, and multiple travel awards