This past summer I had the opportunity to work in a neuroscience lab under the leadership of Dr. Nicholas Betley. One of the lab’s main goals is to understand how internal sensory cues such as hunger prompt cognitive changes that are known to impact the perception and response to other stimuli such as pain, itch, and inflammation. Recent studies in the lab have shown that food restriction inhibits behavioral responses to inflammatory pain, which led to the question of how hunger affects peripheral inflammation. Therefore, over the summer I spent most of my time investigating this question as well as learning a multitude of other lab duties.
For this project, the lab invested in a new device, called a plethysmometer, which measures the paw volume of mice via the displacement of water. Through a paw injection, we chemically induced inflammation and used the plethysmometer as a means to measure small changes in paw volume. Following this chemically induced paw injury, we observed that hungry mice had smaller paw volumes compared to sated mice, therefore demonstrating that hunger attenuates peripheral inflammation. The next step was to find a mechanism that could be mediating the effects of hunger on inflammation, which involved testing peripheral signaling with different manipulations such as corticosterone and the alpha-7 nicotinic receptor. This mechanism is still being researched; however, advancing our understanding of how central and peripheral signals interact to suppress inflammation can aid the development of analgesic therapies.
While I enjoyed working on this project, I also valued learning other lab techniques such as perfusions, behavioral testing, brain slicing, tissue slide mounting, and analyzing scientific literature. One of the most interesting, yet challenging, things I learned this summer was how to handle mice. In the beginning of the summer I was afraid to even pick up a mouse, but as time went on I learned how to properly restrain a mouse and I gradually got more comfortable to the point where I was able to perform different types of injections and more advanced tasks.
Overall, I acquired a genuine appreciation for research and new knowledge that I would not otherwise receive in a standard classroom setting. I developed a well-rounded understanding of the research process as well as the preparation and commitment that goes into an experiment. In addition, all the members of the lab were very helpful and created a welcoming environment for undergraduates. Being part of this lab opened my eyes to potential career paths, exposed me to more information about neurobiology, and made me excited for new discoveries in the lab. I look forward to learning more in the lab and continuing my research with hunger-induced reductions in inflammation.