PSYCH3: “Do You Remember When We Used To…?”—Memory Formation & the Brain

Mentors: Dr. Etan Markus, Professor, Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) and senior students in the lab

Please note: Participation in this site requires handling of live laboratory animals. Instruction in proper handling techniques will be provided.

We go through life experiencing many different things: happy and sad events, people, places, food, and smells, just to name a few. Days or even years later, we can bring these experiences back to life as memories. In our laboratory we study how experiences are preserved in the brain. We focus on a brain structure (the hippocampus) that, when damaged, prevents the formation of new memories and disrupts navigation. If you select this mentorship site, you will join a team of UConn doctoral and undergraduate students researching how the hippocampus is involved in changing brain circuitry. You will learn to train rats on mazes. Participants will also be encouraged to ask questions and sit in on any ongoing research, regardless of the specific mentorship project they will be working on. We are currently conducting experiments examining the activity of hippocampal neurons during behavior; why old rats show memory deficits; and the process in which the hippocampus works together with or competes with other parts of the brain. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in medicine, biology, or psychology.


PSYCH4: Behavioral Neuroscience: Using Animal Models to Understand Human Development Disorders

Mentors: Dr. Holly Fitch, Professor, Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience), and Amanda Smith and Amanda Rendall, Graduate Students

Please note: Participation in this site requires handling of live laboratory animals. Instruction in proper handling techniques will be provided.

Most people are aware that animal research helps us to better understand human diseases. From immunology (e.g., AIDS research) to cancer research to neurological research (e.g., monkey models of Parkinson’s disease), animals have helped us to understand and sometimes treat things that go wrong in the human body. One area that has been difficult to study in animals, however, is language disability—animals don’t have language! Nevertheless, many children (estimated around 5-10%) fail to develop language normally, and a large number of these go on to become reading disabled (e.g., dyslexic). Language disability has a huge emotional and economic impact on these children and their families. Yet, we understand very little about what is happening in the brain to cause these problems. How can animals help us? An important part of language development includes the simple ability to process and discriminate complex and quickly changing sounds (such as human speech). Impairments in this ability may severely disrupt the development of language from infancy onward. Although animals cannot learn to speak, they can discriminate simple sounds. Rats can even discriminate a “ba” from a “da” sound, yet children with language disability have a difficult time with the same task. We also have some information about abnormalities in the brains of dyslexics, but these were observed “post mortem” and, because of the limits of neuroimaging, we cannot study these anomalies in living humans (much less children!). Instead, we can model the brain anomalies in rodents and test the animals in a variety of auditory discrimination tasks. We can also assess other types of brain injury, such as those typically seen in premature/low birth-weight babies. These children also tend to suffer learning and language difficulties. Our animal studies will allow us to draw connections between (1) disrupted brain development and (2) disrupted auditory discrimination, speech perception, and possibly, consequent language development. Our rodents will never develop language, of course, but these studies may begin to give us some insight into the neurobiology of basic auditory processing deficits that may occur in some children with disabling disorders of language. If you choose this site, you will be doing hands-on behavioral work with rodents, as models for human development clinical disorders. Projects may also include anatomical assessment of post mortem rodent brain tissue.