In the first few weeks of my internship, I have been conducting and analyzing the results of behavioral experiments to study stress-induced, depressive-like behaviors in mice. A cohort of 28 mice were chronically stressed by physical restraint for thirty minutes a day, during a period of three weeks. I evaluated the changes within their sucrose preference and measured their social avoidance, since chronic stress is known to cause depression. Thus, it was hypothesized - and consequently confirmed - that the mice would lose weight, lose preference of sucrose water over regular water and decrease social interaction. We wanted to further analyze whether or not restraint-stressing the mice in a particular environment would make that environment aversive: a method known as conditioned place aversion (CPA). Unfortunately, results were not significant. We believe this could be due to poor experimental design or a failure of the mice to associate the environment with the stressful event.
In this short period of time, I learned to handle laboratory animals properly, build head drives (through which to optogenetically stimulate the mice), and perform perfusions to fix the brain tissue. In addition, I learned to code and process data through the MATLAB computer program and sort and classify neurons on the SpikeSort program. These newly acquired skills will prove valuable in my academic and research career in the neuroscience field. My mentor’s talent for teaching, keeping his students intrigued, and motivating them with their work serves as a model for how I would one day like to train my mentees. Through his mentorship, I was able to observe and learn from his unique teaching skills complementing my newly acquired lab skills.
In the following weeks, I hope to learn how to use the operant conditioning mechanisms in our lab, including Arduino - an open source electronic prototyping platform- that can be used in a number of ways. In our case, we will attempt to build a device to automatically dispense water and sense water consumption. It will be a challenging project that will require creative thinking, patience and determination. I hope to refresh my knowledge in circuitry and electronics with this next project, while enhancing my coding skills. I also hope to learn how to stain and analyze brain tissue sections that include gaining a better grasp on immunohistochemistry and neuroanatomy.
This internship thus far has been rewarding, exciting and challenging - my position puts all the material I mastered during the school year to the test and applies it to real life. Ultimately, by the end of the summer, I hope to have all the right tools under my belt to begin conducting an independent research project in preparation for my senior thesis.