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2020 Project Proposal

Visualization of VTA DAergic neural activity during social behavior in mice

Bojana  Zupan (Psychological Science)

Social behavior is modulated in part by activity of dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Specifically, DAergic projections to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) bidirectionally modulate duration of social interaction: increased DAergic activity increases social interaction time while decreased neural activity decreases time spent with a novel same-sex conspecific. Our lab has found that maternal fmr1 deficiency (a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome, largest single-gene cause of autism) programs social behavior, possibly by altering DA neuron activity in the VTA. Electrical activity of neurons is accompanied by rapid changes in intracellular calcium levels, which can be detected in vivo using fluorescently-labeled calcium sensors and miniscope technology (see G. Coste URSI 2018 project). This project is a continuation of ongoing work in the lab that aims to determine whether maternal fmr1-dependent changes in sociability are indeed associated with dysregulated activity of DAergic neurons in the VTA.  The project will involve extensive animal handling, behavioral testing, and data processing. Opportunity to perform surgical manipulation and tissue harvest will depend on candidate’s degree of experience/comfort with invasive procedures.

Previous rodent handling and research experience as well as successful completion of Research Methods in Physiological Psychology preferred.

How should students express interest in this project?
Please describe in your application any research interest and/or experience you feel may be relevant to this project. Please do not email Prof. Zupan prior to submitting the application. Students will be contacted for interviews once all applications are submitted.

This is a 10 week project running from May 27-July 31