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Center for Behavioral Neuroscience trainees participate in our student exchange with Indiana University

Allison Brager, a postdoctoral fellow at Morehouse School of Medicine, Katharine E. McCann, a neuroscience graduate student at Georgia State University and Victoria Templer, a psychology graduate student in the Neuroscience and Animal Behavior program at Emory University received travel awards to attend the 20th Annual Animal Behavior Conference at Indiana University.

Dr. Allison BragerOf her experience at the conference, Dr. Brager had this to say: The meeting was beyond helpful for my immediate and future career. Scientifically, I had many opportunities to interact with graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty in many diverse areas of animal research ranging from neuroscience, ecology, and evolution. This diversity not only broadened my research network, but also allowed me to gain different perspectives on the significance of my own project, which is important to consider during the writing process. This meeting was also unique in that a graduate student, with whom I still communicate, hosted me. During my stay, I learned about a research area of social behavior that I was previously unfamiliar with. The meeting closed with a reception at the home of one of the faculty at Indiana University. There I learned about ‘six degrees of separation’ in research training and obtained great advice from a few of the faculty couples about resolving ‘a two-body problem’ in academia, which I am currently faced with. I would like to thank the CBN for providing me with this opportunity to attend a fantastic conference that undoubtedly helped my scientific and professional development. Dr. Brager works in the lab of Dr. Ketema Paul. The travel award was funded by Morehouse School of Medicine and Indiana University.

Research synopsis: Dr. Brager’s research interest focuses on how the structure and function of skeletal muscle influences locomotor activity and sleep. The research team on which she works has a unique mouse line wherein a particular gene (Bmal1) is overexpressed specifically in the skeletal muscle. Overexpression of Bmal1 in the skeletal muscle has a significant effect on the architecture of the skeletal muscle in that it increases the size of each individual muscle fiber and presence of Type IIb fibers (fast-twitch, glycolytic). Despite this architectural difference, there is little effect on glucose uptake by the skeletal muscle in response to insulin. Finally, there are modest effects on daily patterns of behavior; while overexpression of Bmal1 in the skeletal muscle does not affect the timing or intensity of daily rhythms of wheel running, overexpression of Bmal1 does lead to an increase in general locomotor activity, particularly at the light-dark transitions and middle of each photoperiod. In the future, Dr. Brager plans to examine whether there are any brain correlates to how the skeletal muscle regulates daily rhythms of locomotor activity and sleep.

Katharine McCannIn reflecting on her experience at the conference, Katherine indicated the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience provided me with a travel award to present the research described below at the 20th Annual Animal Behavior Conference in Bloomington, Indiana. I have attended several conferences during my graduate school career and have presented data, but this was my first opportunity to give a talk, rather than present a poster. The students, faculty and staff in Bloomington were very welcoming and fostered a comfortable environment with which to give my first oral presentation outside of the Georgia State community. I received a lot of excellent feedback and was able to interact with the faculty and students one-on-one or in small groups throughout the conference. This opportunity to discuss my research, as well as to learn about other research in animal behavior outside of neuroscience, expanded my network and provided me with resources that will certainly help me throughout my career. I would like to thank both the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience in Atlanta and the Center for Integrative Study of Animal Behavior in Bloomington for their continuing collaboration to give students like me the opportunity to present their research and to establish lasting connections within the scientific community. Ms. McCann works in the lab of Dr. Kim Huhman. The travel award was funded by Georgia State University and Indiana University.

Research synopsis: The title of the research project that Katharine discussed at the conference is Social defeat in Syrian hamsters: Controllability, duration and social recognition. Syrian hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus, are highly territorial and will quickly and reliably attack an intruding conspecific. Losing a fight, however, has long-term behavioral consequences. After one social defeat, hamsters abandon all territorial aggression and become highly submissive, even towards a non-threatening social stimulus such as a caged hamster or a smaller, non-aggressive opponent. This drastic change in behavior has been termed conditioned defeat (CD). Although hamsters generalize this submission to all conspecifics after an inescapable defeat, the investigators have shown that hamsters are able to recognize a previous attacker as evidenced by the fact that they will avoid that individual more than they will an unfamiliar aggressor. While the Huhman laboratory primarily uses inescapable social defeat to model the clinical psychopathologies (e.g., anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder) that can result from bullying or abuse, researchers have also shown that exposure to escapable social defeat results in CD, albeit to a reduced degree. Because the animals that were exposed to escapable defeat were paired with the aggressive conspecific for less time, however, it is unclear whether the difference in CD is due to the ability to control the end of the pairing or simply to the shorter overall duration of defeat experienced. The purpose of the present study was to examine this question. Using a yoked design, it was demonstrated that when the duration of social defeat was held constant, there was no effect of controllability on CD behavior exhibited during testing as shown by the finding that the two groups exhibited similar levels of CD. These data suggest that for hamsters the ability to control (i.e., escape from) a socially stressful situation does not reduce the effect of social defeat on subsequent agonistic behavior.

Victoria TemplerVictoria conducted a 15-minute presentation on the research described below. In reflecting on her experience, she said, I really enjoyed attending this conference for several reasons. First, the host students and professors at the Center for Integrative Study of Animal Behavior (CISAB) were extremely accommodating and welcoming. There were many lunches and dinners with other students that gave us time to connect with one another and learn about our research interests and future plans. Second, presenting my research orally was a very valuable learning experience for me. I am usually encouraged to give posters at conferences so that I have more one-on-one time with those interested in my research. Therefore, getting the opportunity to speak outside of my usual Emory University audience was unique. Third, I was able to make connections with those both in the Atlanta CBN community and the Indiana community, which are helpful resources as I develop my career. Fourth, I was able to learn about interesting research I probably would not have learned about had I not attended this conference. The research areas I was exposed to helped me think about possible future research interests for myself that I had not considered previously. This is particularly helpful as I begin exploring laboratories that I may want to conduct research in as postdoctoral fellow. Overall, the conference was an invaluable experience and I greatly appreciate the efforts of both the CISAB and CBN in allowing me to attend by granting a travel award. Ms. Templer works in the lab of Dr. Rob Hampton. The travel award was funded by Emory University and Indiana University.

Research synopsis: The title of the research study that Victoria discussed at the conference is Cognitive mechanisms underlying memory for sequences in monkeys. One important aspect of episodic memory is the ability to remember the order in which unique sequences of events occurred. The researchers adapted cognitive tests that model this type of memory in rats (Fortin, Agster, & Eichenbaum, 2002) to examine the cognitive mechanisms responsible for memory order in monkeys (Templer & Hampton, 2013). Monkeys were tested in a series of experiments to distinguish among several cognitive mechanisms proposed to support memory for order. Monkeys were presented with lists of five images drawn randomly from a pool of 6,000 images. At test, two images were presented and monkeys were rewarded for selecting the image that had appeared earlier in the studied list. Monkeys learned to discriminate the order of the images, even those that were consecutive in the list studied. In subsequent experiments, the research team found that discrimination of order was not controlled by list position or relative memory strength. Instead, monkeys used temporal order, which is a mechanism that appears to encode order of occurrence relative to other events, rather than in absolute time. It was discovered that number of intervening images, rather than passage of time per se, most strongly determined the discriminability of order of occurrence. Episodic memories should be explicit, or accessible, to memory monitoring. To determine the extent to which monkeys’ memory for order is accessible to memory monitoring, monkeys were allowed to choose between taking and declining memory tests. Declining tests resulted in a guaranteed but less preferred reward, while taking the tests and responding correctly resulted in a preferred reward. Errors resulted in no reward. Under these contingencies, monkeys that can monitor memory should decline tests when memory is poor and take tests when memory is good. When given the option to decline sequence tests in this format, monkeys adaptively declined tests on trials on which they were unlikely to respond correctly. As a result, performance was significantly better on chosen tests compared to forced tests, indicating that memory for unique sequences of events is accessible to memory monitoring. These results suggest that these memories are explicit and support the validity of sequence memory tasks as models for exploring the neural and cognitive bases of episodic memory.


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