Behavioural Neurogenetics Group

Meyrick

My name is Meyrick Kidwell and I have recently completed my Masters in this lab. The central topic for my thesis was depression however I used a range of different research methods including behavioural, neurobiological and physiological methods. Next up I hope to further explore and develop our understanding of heart rate variability through a PhD. While HRV and the heart-brain interaction will be my primary focus in the coming years, I love a good challenge so would enjoy diversifying my skill set through learning and developing new methods.

Daniel

I am a master’s student studying whether dendritic spines are altered in the serotonin transporter knockout rat model and whether these changes also occur over time, using western blot, qPCR and neuronal culture techniques. My interests and passions lie in the cellular/molecular bases of behaviour, especially with regards to synaptic neurobiology. In my spare time I’m either at the gym, watching tv shows, or sleeping (which also happens to be my favourite hobby).

Kate

I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri (USA) and went to undergrad at The College of Wooster (very small uni in Ohio). I majored in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and worked in several neuroscience labs. I did a small research project on body image and affective responses measured via EEGs. I also researched sex differences in the effect of acute, restraint stress on working memory in Sprague Dawley rats (for a small project).

For my undergrad thesis, I researched cognition in Type 1 Diabetes versus non-diabetics in terms of  inhibition, task switching, and psychomotor efficiency. I decided on this research topic because I’ve been a Type 1 Diabetic for 15 years and I wanted to know how this disease impacts (or could impact) my cognition. Interestingly, I found that Type 1 Diabetics had significantly slower psychomotor speed across all tasks even though their task switching and inhibition skills were normal. I think it would be interesting to follow up on this research…maybe an idea for my Master’s thesis?

How did I end up at VuW?

I studied on exchange here trimester 2 of 2016 and had a wonderful experience. I decided after graduating undergrad last May, to come back to VuW for postgrad studies. I am doing part 1 of the CBNS Master’s program and would love to find a job in NZ after finishing my degree.

For our first year of the CBNS program, we complete two research projects in a different lab each trimester. 

Trimester 1: I was a part of the Human Learning Lab with Anne and Maree. My research project was on experiential delay discounting and time perception. I did not know anything about this topic prior to last trimester, but I learned a lot of valuable skills about human behaviour analysis. I am currently preparing my 2-min talk for the poster session about our research projects on Friday.

Trimester 2: I will be working on Ultrasonic Vocalizations mainly using DeepSqueak. I am not familiar with USVs or DeepSqueak but Bart and Jiun have provided me with articles to get started on understanding the material. My goal is to read the articles this week.

I look forward to working in this lab and learning about USVs in rats

Emma

I am a Dutch master student

My name is Emma de Ruiter and I am a Dutch master student. I ended up in Wellington writing my master thesis. I study pharmacy at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Now, you might think: what is a Dutch pharmacy student doing in a psychology lab on the other side of the world? I’ll explain. For me, the brain has always been the most intriguing part of the human body. The different theories, not knowing exactly what happens on physiological level, and the huge number of external factors that influence its function. This gives the brain some sort of mystery.

Also, current medication to treat for example depression are not very pleasant to use and have a lot of side effects. This made me, as a future pharmacist, motivated to write my master thesis in this discipline. During my bachelor thesis, I had the chance to investigate the effect of MDMA on patients with treatment-resistant PTSD (just a literature study though). To try to continue this path, I ended up here in Wellington.

Other then my internship here, New-Zealand has so much to offer! I am amazed by the beautiful nature and all the kind people. I like to spend my free time outside, either rowing, tramping, sailing or surfing.

I am a Dutch master student

Henry

“Hello!  My name is Henry Chafee, and I am from Seattle, Washington in the United States.  I joined the CBNS lab group ahead of beginning my bachelor with honors in psychology at Victoria University in March of 2020.  In addition to cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, I am also interested in clinical psychology, specifically, counseling and therapy, as well as research.  When I’m not at Uni, I love to go for a tramp in the bush around Wellington, and grab a beer with friends afterwards.”

Jade

“Originally from the Waikato, I moved to Wellington in 2019 to study a masters in cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. I have particular interests in genetics as well as drug effects on the brain and I plan to delve into the relationship between the two for my thesis.”

Michaela

Michaela is interested in the underlying factors that contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders. Her research targeted the genetic and environmental interactions which underlie Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Previous research has demonstrated that prenatal exposure to Valproic acid increases the risk for ASD, and changes in serotonin have been similarly implicated. As such, Michaela has examined the effects of continuous prenatal exposure of Valproic acid in animals which had reduced serotonin function. She has examined behavioural and immunohistochemical changes in offspring that are prenatally exposed to valproate. Michaela’s research advances the VPA-induced animal model of ASD and contributes novel methods and measures to the field.

To know more about her reseach, check our projects.

Nicotine and tobacco addiction

There are over a billion smokers worldwide, costing an estimated $5.6M annually in New Zealand (NZ) alone. High tobacco taxes in NZ, while effective in triggering smoking, have had serious financial impacts on those unable to stop smoking and their families. Smoking remains a big problem largely because smoking is very addictive. However, we now know that tobacco dependence is more complex than “just” the effect of nicotine. In fact tobacco smoke contains many hundreds of different compounds.

Within this project we aim to investigate which of these components could potentiate the addictive properties of nicotine, focussing predominantly on monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. As the term implies, MAO is involved in the breakdown of monoamines such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. In fact there are two different forms of MAO, with MAO-A more involved in the metabolism of noradrenaline and serotonin and MAO-B more involved in the metabolism of dopamine. Given that all drugs of abuse (including nicotine) increase dopamine neurotransmission, MAO inhibitors could contribute to the rewarding properties of such drugs by blocking the subsequent breakdown of dopamine.

Together with Drs Penny Truman and Rob Keijzers as well as AProf Paul Teresdale Spittle, we have identified several MAO inhibitors in the tobacco smoke and we are now investigating whether these components, alone or in combination with each other, enhance the rewarding properties of nicotine. To that extent we will use several behavioural paradigms such as conditioned place preference and self-administration.

This research is supported by grants from the Health Research Council and the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

18.09.2019 – More Grant News

We just received the wonderful news that we were successful in securing an MBIE Endeavour grant. Together with Drs Penny Truman, Paul Teesdale Spittle and Rob Keijzers we will investigate whether monoamine oxidase inhibitors alter the rewarding properties of nicotine. This can help us develop more effective replacement therapies.

Maldi and Metabolomics

Genetic alterations or early environmental challenges typically lead to many neurobiological changes. While it is certainly possible to predict some of these, the complexity of the brain and the neuronal connectivity make it necessary to use special techniques that go beyond the standard “hypothesis-driven” approach. Over the last decades the research field has developed numerous so-called “hypothesis-free” techniques, such as genome wide association studies, RNA sequencing and proteomics. Together with our collaborators Drs Rob Keijzers and Bill Jordan, we are using two of these techniques: Maldi and metabolomics.

Maldi (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization) is a technique that allows the detection and distribution of many different compounds in biological tissues. The idea is that a brain section is coated with a specific matrix (a chemical coating) and subsequently exposed to a laser beam. This laser created heat which vaporises the top layer of both the matrix and the brain section. The resulting ions can then be detected with mass spectroscopy. The great benefit of Maldi for neuroscience is that the laser can be targeted to a very small region (in the order to 50 micrometers). By moving the laser across a brain slice, we can get a detailed map of the distribution of different neurobiological compounds. By adjusting the matrix, we can assess many different components of the brain (neurotransmitters, lipids etc).

Metabolomics refers to the “systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind”. As such it can be considered the final consequence of the genomics -> transcriptomics -> proteomics -> metabolomics process. There are several different methods that allow us to identify the metabolome of a biological sample (such as brain region or blood plasma), including mass spectroscopy, gas chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance. Each of these methods have their own advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of sample preparation, sensitivity and data interpretation. We therefore aim to use and compare all three detection methods while assessing the metabolome changes seen in SERT knock-out rats and in rats expose to maternal immune activation.

This project is in part supported by a grant from “Research for Life” (formerly the Wellington Medical Research Foundation).