Undergraduate research at CSH: probing the role of interneurons in autism

August 24, 2012

This past summer, I have been the co-director of the Undergraduate Research Program (URP) at Cold Spring Harbor. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with 26 bright, enthusiastic students from the all over: we had students from Cambridge, Brown, Berkeley, the University of Barcelona, and many other places. Each student is placed in a lab and works on their own project for 10 weeks.

Although many students this year worked on innovative and exciting projects, I chose to highlight the work of Zach Collins, an undergraduate at George Washington University. Zach researched the expression patterns of inhibitory interneurons in collaboration with Partha Mitra’s lab and Josh Huang’s lab. Zach is particularly interested in whether the expression pattern of subtypes of inhibitory neurons is unusual in Autism. Although the possibility of disruption in the balance of excitation and inhibition has been previously suggested as an underlying cause for Autism, the precise differences in inhibitory circuits have not yet been thoroughly examined. Zach’s goal was to find an automated way to make 3-d reconstructions of mouse brains that show expression of sub classes of inhibitory neurons. By comparing the brains of a mouse model of autism with control mice, Zach and his colleagues will be able to identify where the differences in inhibitory neurons are most pronounced. The image below is a heat map of expression for Gad2, an enzyme marker of inhibitory GABAergic neurons. The section is from Pavel Osten’s lab; Zach worked to develop an automated algorithm to detect the labeled cells and quantify them across sections. Below that is am image of Zach (on the right) relaxing with fellow URPs Emily Glassberg and Ed Twomey (taken by Constance Brukin).

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