CURF 1: Sensory Information Processing and Brain State

Hi, my name is John McCann, and I am a sophomore Neuroscience major. In addition to my major, I plan to complete a certificate in German language as well as minors in Computer Science and Chemistry. While my academic path is mainly in the Sciences, I enjoy reading fiction novels as well as writing prose and poetry, and I also run for the Club Cross Country team at Pitt.

My current professional goals are not completely solidified, but currently, I have plans to go to Graduate school or complete a PhD program in Neuroscience. A major part of any graduate or PhD program is lab research. Getting involved in research as an undergraduate, as well as taking an independent role in a project, has helped me decide to pursue research further and get valuable experience needed for my career post-graduation. The CURF fits directly into these goals by giving me the experience and confidence I need to continue in the field.

In the summer of 2021, I reached out to Dr. Runyan to offer my help to her Neuroscience research laboratory. I specifically contacted Dr. Runyan because her lab focuses on uncovering how neuron populations process sensory information in relation to the brain’s internal state (such as attentive or drowsy). The study of perception was one of my reasons for choosing to major in neuroscience, so I am grateful to be able to help contribute to gathering new data in the field.

The Runyan lab uses mice as a model species for studying sensory information processing. Sensory information in our brain is heavily processed to create the world we perceive, and this processing is influenced by various internal factors. The project I am involved in seeks to gain more insight into how things like attentive and inattentive/exploratory internal states influence information processing in the mouse parietal cortex. Our experimental set up allows for us to collect behavioral data of the mice as they run through a sound-localization T-maze. Using code written in Matlab, I have been analyzing the behavioral data of the mice throughout the experiment. By artificially triggering the release of a neurotransmitter into the mouse’s parietal cortex (through a technique called optogenetics) we are able to induce attentive and exploratory states in the mice while they are running in maze. The goal of my project is to determine if release of neurotransmitter correlates to any significant behavioral changes. My analysis will then be combined with recording of the activity of neurons. Linking behavioral changes with neuronal activity is important to understand how information is processed in the brain, and comprehending how information is processed helps us discover what goes wrong with these pathways in diseases such as schizophrenia and addiction.

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