Ruby, Widzowski, and Undergraduate Students Present Research at Neuroscience Meeting

Posted on 2/27/2015 12:58:00 PM

Biology professors Christina Ruby and Dan Widzowski and their students, Natalie Verbanes, Catherine Zisk, Colleen Trostle, and Abbey Hawkins presented the results of their research at the 44th annual Society for Neuroscience meeting held November 15–19, 2014, in Washington, D.C. This momentous occasion marked the first time IUP was represented at the world’s premier venue for neuroscience.

                          Cat and natalie

More than 31,000 scientists, clinicians, and advocates from around the globe traveled to Washington, DC in November to take part in SfN's annual meeting, which showcased over 15,000 scientific presentations, 712 vendors with the latest scientific products and technologies, numerous workshops, networking functions, and 10 media conferences.

Major topics of this year’s meeting included addiction, visual processing, neurodegeneration, psychiatric disorders, sleep and circadian clocks, the spinal cord, synapses, and visual cognition and perception. It is noteworthy that research in the Ruby and Widzowski labs spans several of these important topics.

Verbanes and Zisk co-authored and presented a poster entitled “Caffeine potentiates circadian photic phase-resetting and delays light-entrained onset in mice,”  summarizing the results of their Biology honors thesis projects in the Ruby lab. Their research showed that caffeine enhances the natural ability of the brain’s biological clock to respond to light, but that this enhancement may lead to an overall negative effect of postponing the onset of daily activity (“sleeping in”).

Interestingly, they demonstrated this effect with as little as the “mouse equivalent” of the amount of caffeine contained in a medium-sized coffeehouse coffee. As people often drink caffeinated beverages to feel awake and alert, Verbanes’ and Zisk’s study shows that caffeine may actually have the opposite effect the next day, which may partly underlie caffeine dependence. This poster is also co-authored by IUP Biology undergraduates Laura Marinos, Jake Dietzel, and Christina Maziarz.

Trostle and Hawkins co-authored and presented a poster entitled “Evaluation of serotonergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic drug effects and interactions in conditioned place preference in planarians,” in which they investigated the ability of pharmacological agents to alter or mimic nicotine-seeking behavior in planaria.

Their work confirmed that planaria show nicotine-seeking behavior, similar to humans and mice. Contrary to other studies in rodents, they saw that serotonin 2C receptor activation did not affect nicotine-seeking in planaria, and that a dopamine transporter inhibitor did not mimic the ability of nicotine and other addictive drugs to promote drug seeking behavior.

Overall, their results support that the planarian may be a good animal model for some aspects of human addictive behavior, and suggest that serotonin 2C receptors may not be a therapeutic target for nicotine addiction.  Other co-authors of the poster include IUP Biology undergraduates Haley Prough and Hillary Holmes.

IUP provided substantial support for undertaking and disseminating the results of these projects.  Research funding was provided by the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Biology department. Travel support was provided by the University Senate Research Council travel grant awards to Ruby and Widzowski and travel funds from Biology;  travel was supported by the School of Graduate Studies and Research and the Biology department.  Posters are available for viewing in Weyandt Hall.