The goal of my project with Dr. Betley was to understand how neural circuits in the brain influence food intake. Over the course of the summer, I was given the opportunity to work closely with other undergraduates, graduate students, and Post-Docs within the lab.
Experiments were performed in rodent models and used techniques such as optogenetics, food assays, and fiber photometry. Optogenetics was used to activate AgRP neurons, a neuron population well known for mediating appetite. Food assays were run in combination with optogenetics to monitor how activating these neurons affected the amount of food each mouse ate. Fiber photometry was used to record neurotransmitter or GCaMP signaling in the brain to determine how various food and drug rewards affected activity of neuron populations in the brain.
Over the course of the project, I gained a lot of knowledge regarding the brain, neural circuits, and different experiment techniques, such as the ones discussed above. I was also able to learn technical skills, such as how to program in Matlab, create graphs on Adobe Illustrator, and how to use Synapse software. Moreover, I learned how to find specific regions in the brain and how to cut and mount brain slices to be looked at under a microscope. Learning where to begin and stop cutting a mouse brain in order to preserve the region of interest greatly improved my ability to identify different regions of the brain. Additionally, any time I was asked to find a specific region of the brain, the function of that region was always explained in great detail, something that truly enhanced my experience as an undergraduate researcher.
Working for the Betley Lab was an amazing learning experience, and I am positive that all of the knowledge gained over the course of this summer will only augment my studies as a BBB major.