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Psychological Science
2021 Project Proposal

Visualization of VTA DAergic neural activity during social behavior in mice

Bojana Zupan (Psychological Science)

Project Type - C - In-person-only: It will be cancelled if we are not allowed to have URSI students come to campus this summer.

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.

Prerequisites: 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?  Applications will be assessed by Dr. Zupan who will email applicants if they are invited for an interview. Please do not email Dr. Zupan directly.

This is an 8-week project running from June 7 – July 31