Expect the Unexpected
It’s back. After one year of being canceled and another year of being online, Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is back in-person. This year, I took two of my Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) students, Wyland Nicholson and Kaylee Alford, to the 51st SfN Conference in beautiful San Diego.
My students got to present their research findings detailing the protective effects of spaced exercise against the dopaminergic neurotoxin 6-OHDA in an animal model of Parkinson’s Disease. This last summer, my students wanted to determine whether there would be a differential protective effect of spaced exercise compared to continuous exercise. Rats were either exercised for 60 continuous minutes or exercised for three sessions of 20 minutes broken up by 30 minutes of rest. We also sought to use a behavioral test that would be more sensitive to detecting the effects of dopaminergic loss in the substantia nigra, the area of the brain that degenerates in PD. We hypothesized that continuous exercise would be more effective than continuous high-intensity exercise. Surprisingly our results demonstrated that spaced exercise was more effective in reducing asymmetric behavior, a measure of dopamine loss.
In addition to learning more about PD from other poster presentations, I attended several mini-symposiums and oral presentations on various topics. One experiment I plan to do is to examine the mechanisms by which exercise protects against dopaminergic loss. Attending the “Parkinson’s Disease Mitochondria Mechanisms” poster session made me curious whether exercise has its protective effects through enhancing mitochondrial function.
Several poster presentations I attended contained relevant and new information I plan to incorporate into my classes. The poster sessions I attended included Long-Term Memory: Consolidation and Reconsolidation Neural Mechanisms; Memory, Genes, and Molecules; Neural and Behavioral Effects of Psychoactive Drugs, and Hippocampal Circuitry and Navigation.”
Another valuable special lecture I attended was “Sleep for Cognition, Memory, and Mental Health.” While it has been known that sleep, specifically REM sleep, is essential in memory formation, new research shows that there are different substages within REM. One of these sub-stages is responsible for clearing (or depotentiating) memories. Interestingly, norepinephrine prevents this clearing of memories. The speaker’s research showed that elevated norepinephrine prevents this sub-stage of REM as well as the clearance of Alzheimer’s disease-causing protein beta-amyloid. In addition, those with PTSD do not experience this REM memory-clearing phase, and that inhibition of the locus coeruleus, which produces norepinephrine levels, can reduce PTSD symptoms in rats.
Given that I teach Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the mini symptom “Representation of Episodic: Memory in Single Neurons of the Human Brain” also caught my attention. For this symposium, I was able to come away with several research articles for my students to read and present in class. I also had Wyland, the student presenter, attend the mini-symposium “Psychedelics and Neural Plasticity.” He will be presenting some of these findings in my Neuropharmacology course.
Overall, this year’s SfN was very fruitful. My students and I came back having learned much about Parkinson’s disease, memory, sleep, and drugs.