The PURM program served as a learning experience during which I was exposed to a professional research environment for the first time. I developed a close relationship with my mentor Dr. William Doyon as I served as a research assistant for his and Dr. John Dani’s Optogenetic Modulation of Dopamine Neuron Circuits and Alcohol Self- Administration Project this summer. The main goal of the project is to examine the effects of alcohol intake on the neural pathways controlling dopamine release in transgenic Long-Evans rats. The rats were genetically altered to express specific light-sensitive ion channels (such as channel rhodopsin) and implanted with a light fiber in the medial nucleus accumbens (NAc). They were then trained in operant self-administration boxes in order to determine the impact of light stimulation on ethanol intake. Preliminary results demonstrate that transgenic rats expressing channel rhodopsin drank less when exposed to a 20Hz stimulation of dopamine release during self-administration.
Throughout the program, my primary responsibilities consisted of training the transgenic rats and analyzing data surrounding ethanol intake. I also learned how to analyze the images demonstrating the opsin expression in dopamine neurons and shadowed numerous surgical procedures. I plan to apply the skills that I have acquired over the summer to future research opportunities. Overall, this experience has opened my eyes to the various opportunities that exist within the research field. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to become a part of such a hardworking team that made every effort to make me feel at home.