While anesthetics have been used for centuries, exactly how they work is still uncertain. Previously, scientists believed that anesthetics disrupt the brain’s ability to take in new information. However, that hypothesis has been disputed by researchers Hubel and Weisel when they discovered that anesthetized cats respond to visual stimuli in the primary visual cortex. While the brain receives stimuli from the environment, there is a disruption in the integration of sensory information that would be necessary for sensory perception. To test this hypothesis, we will show anesthetized mice multisensory stimuli and measure their brain activity with electrocorticography to later compare with recordings from awake mice to determine differences in spatial integration. In preparation for this experiment, we designed multisensory stimuli using PsychToolbox. We also developed a method to head-restrain the mice during awake recordings.
During this summer, I gained several concrete skills. I improved my programming skills by learning to use PsychToolbox to create precisely timed stimuli. I studied the basics of signal processing. I learned how to handle mice and how to prepare for mouse surgery. Finally, I learned how to keep a proper lab notebook and that I had to record everything.
More importantly, I learned how experiments are designed and performed. This was my first time performing research. I had started the summer thinking that I would be tasked to program some stimulus that had already been decided. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got to go through every step of designing a stimulus for an electrophysiology experiment. I had to consider how close the stimuli were to events a mouse would encounter naturally, such as a predator approaching. I looked through papers to find stimuli that were proven to have strong responses, such as visual gratings. I learned about details that mattered in the experiment. Precision in timing was particularly important so that voltage changes in the brain could be accurately matched up with the stimulus. With these ideas in mind, I was able to create stimuli for the experiment.
Working at the Proekt lab has been fascinating. I’m thrilled to have had this chance to start doing research, and I intend to continue performing research for the rest of my time at Penn.