Faculty Name:
Mat Wachowiak

Neurobiology & Anatomy

Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter capable of modulating information processing throughout the brain. There is a high density of local dopaminergic interneurons and receptors in the olfactory bulb. Pharmacological manipulation of dopamine release in vivo alters the ability for mice to discriminate odorants. Likewise, decreases in dopaminergic tone and a loss of smell are associated with numerous diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. To understand dopamine’s role in shaping neural circuit activity, this project will investigate how dopamine release and subsequent circuit activity changes as a function of experience.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

For this project, a talented student will run an odor-enrichment paradigm on mice to assess how dopamine signaling in the brain alters as a function of prior odor experiences. They will determine if experience alters tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expression, the rate-limiting enzyme necessary for dopamine synthesis. They will also learn how changes in TH expression relate to endogenous patterns of dopamine transmission. Lastly, they will determine how experience-dependent changes in dopamine signaling relate to the rewiring of neuronal circuits. To this end, students will test if experience alters the expression of dopamine receptor subtypes on different populations of neurons in the olfactory bulb circuit. This will shed light on how dopamine modulates neural circuit function as a function of experience. Remote Contingency Plan: The lab is well-prepared to mentor a SPUR student remotely should this contingency arise. In this case, the work would mainly involve learning data analysis methods - specifically, analysis of data from in vivo optical imaging experiments, in which neural activity is reported as changes in fluorescence over time; or of behavioral data, in which an animal's performance in a behavioral task is analyzed. In addition, the student can participate in experiments virtually, in which the postdoc will be collecting imaging or behavioral data and the student can be virtually present in real-time through screen-sharing applications. The student would also have the opportunity to learn Matlab programming to write their own data analysis code. Given this contingency, some interest in image processing and quantitative methods such as signal processing will be helpful.

Student Benefits:

With these experiences, this student will not only gain a broad understanding of fundamental neuroscience; they will gain training to some of the most important experimental techniques currently used in neuroscience research. This student will learn how to conduct a mouse behavioral paradigm, perform histology and immunohistochemistry, and participate in cutting-edge in vivo imaging experiments. In addition, this student will also gain experience in analyzing imaging data, science writing, and presenting. It is expected that the student will have the opportunity to present the results of their work at at least one national research conference.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.