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Psychological Science
2021 Project Proposal

Assessment of VTA oxytocin receptor activity on 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.

The mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), the largest single-gene cause of autism, recapitulates many autism-related behaviors including abnormal sociability, a core symptom of many neurodevelopmental disorders. Our lab has shown, however, that genetically unaffected mice derived from fmr1-deficient females also show behavioral abnormalities, specifically increased sociability, suggesting that reduction in maternal fmr1 expression has an intergenerational programming effect on offspring neurodevelopment. Sociability is modulated in part by oxytocinergic (OXTergic) signaling in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and while intranasal OXT increases social approach in control mice, those programmed by maternal fmr1 deficiency show reduced social approach following OXT administration. Reduced sensitivity to OXT may be due in part to altered expression of OXT receptors (OXTRs) in the VTA and/or dysregulated OXTR function. As our previous data suggests no differences in OXTR expression in a subset of OXT VTA neurons, this project will assess VTA OXT receptor function using an already established behavioral neuropharmacology approach. 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