Microglial morphology after adolescent alcohol exposure: student volunteer needed
Adolescence is a critical period of neurodevelopment characterized by high levels of behavioral and cellular plasticity which are modulated in part by the brain’s immune system. Adolescence is also when alcohol use is initiated in humans, and our lab has found that binge levels of alcohol exposure during adolescence alters neurodevelopment by upregulating neuroimmune signaling and producing a chronic pro-inflammatory state in the adult brain. These effects are most notable in the hippocampus, a brain region noted for its critical role in learning and memory. We have found that adolescent intermittent ethanol (AIE) exposure impairs performance in learning and memory-related tasks in rodents, and that these cognitive-behavioral deficits are associated a loss of a unique population of neurons in adulthood – newborn hippocampal neurons. Newborn hippocampal neurons are highly plastic and are increasingly understood to be a cornerstone of cognitive flexibility in learning tasks; loss of these newborn neurons in adulthood is devastating to hippocampal function, and in fact is a hallmark feature of most neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. The goal of the current study is to fate-map these neurons born during adolescence and assess the impact of adolescent binge alcohol exposure on their structural and functional maturation, providing novel insights into the persistent role of adolescent alcohol exposure on adult brain pathology.
Student Project: Characterize how adolescent alcohol exposure impacts the morphology of hippocampal microglia and their contact with newborn neuron processes. Microglia are innate immune regulators in the central nervous system, and they facilitate the sculpting of neural networks by phagocytosing synapses. Students will learn how to assess microglia morphology using Sholl analysis with Imaris software. This project will test the hypothesis that adolescent alcohol exposure increases microglial ramification in the hippocampus. This project will further test whether alcohol’s impact on microglial structure is differentially impacted by their proximity to newborn neurons.
Expectations: We are looking for a long-term commitment as these laboratory techniques are time-intensive in training, and we fully expect the students to progress towards independence. Student researchers are valuable team members and will learn a variety of laboratory skills including the appropriate use of transgenic mouse models, experimental design, immunohistochemistry, neuroanatomy, data analysis, and interpretation. All students will also be trained in animal handling and involved in multiple aspects of ongoing experimental procedures.
Time commitment: Students are expected to schedule 10+ hours per week (Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.) in the laboratory. This must be divided across two consistent 5-hour blocks of time each week. Pending technical progress throughout the year and per discussions between both the mentee/mentor, this position would transition to a paid full-time position over the summer. Immersive summer work provides an unparalleled introduction to the research experience. There are also opportunities to build this into research credit during future semesters. Your results will directly contribute to our understanding of the effects of and potential therapeutic targets for alcohol exposure across development.
To be eligible for this opportunity, you MUST have taken an introductory neuroscience course.
Interested? Contact Dr. Victoria Macht (email@example.com). Include a brief statement on your career goals and why this position interests you. Please also include your transcript with relevant coursework highlighted. Lastly, please also note the rigorous time commitments for this position, and include a statement on your availability.