My primary project in Professor Betley’s lab was studying the effects of stimulating steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) neurons in the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH). Prior to this project, the lab found that there is increased activity in these SF1 neuron populations after exercise. Based on this finding, we wanted to see if increasing SF1 activity beyond normal levels via light stimulation would improve their endurance capacity.
To perform the experiment, the lab used optogenetics, a technique that allows the researcher to manipulate neuronal activity using light. Before running the experiment, a virus called Cre-dependent channelrhodopsin (ChR2) was injected into the mice’s VMH. Additionally, a fiber was inserted into the VMH to allow light to travel through. This virus codes for an ion channel protein in the SF1 neurons that is activated by light. Thus, shining light into these neurons stimulates them, increasing their activity. My role in this project is to run the experiment based on the treadmill training and endurance test protocols provided by the lab’s collaborators.
Throughout my research experience, I came to understand that mistakes and setbacks are frequent. They are a part of understanding the implications of the science behind the experiment and vital to learning how to improve experimental procedures. Often, we ran into equipment malfunctions, incorrect usage of certain equipment and programs, flaws in experimental designs, and complications in interpreting behavioral data. When we recognize these mistakes or setbacks, we may be able to solve them. However, if solving them is impossible, such as the problem with data interpretation, they add to a nuanced understanding about the nature of science and scientific research. Ultimately, my biggest takeaway from this research experience is learning how to be patient during the process of gaining new knowledge.
To see my poster, please visit Penn Presents: https://presentations.curf.upenn.edu/poster/steroidogenic-factor-1-sf1-n...