Neuroscience at Scholarship Sewanee 2015

Walter E. Nance ’54 and Nayna Avent Nance created an endowment that provides the McCrady Prizes at Scholarship Sewanee.  First given in 2013, the prizes honor the memory of Edward McCrady . . . 11th Vice-Chancellor (1951-1971) and Professor of Biology . . . a scientist of national reputation, a musician, a caver.  The Speaker’s Choice is a poster selected by The McCrady Lecturer without regard to field;  McCrady Prizes for Best Poster Presentation are awarded in Behavioral & Social Sciences, Biological Sciences, Environmental & Earth Sciences, and in Mathematics & Physical Sciences;  McCrady Prizes for Best Oral Presentation are awarded in Arts & Humanities, History, and in Politics.

Scholarship Sewaneeis a celebration of student research at the University . . . class projects, community-based projects, or independent student research.  They include data collection and analysis during the previous summer as well as the academic year, both on- and off-campus.  It is an expansion of Scientific Sewanee, first held in April 1994 . . . with an Invited Lecture and 20 student poster presentations.

Scholarship Sewanee 2015 began on Thursday evening with a trio of student-directed one-act plays by Tennessee Williams (repeated Friday and Saturday evenings);  included oral presentations Friday morning and later afternoon;  the McCrady Invited Lecture at 1 p.m.;  poster presentations starting at 2:30 p.m. (with researchers remaining close to their posters to discuss their project with those attending);  and a Sewanee Symphony concert Friday evening involving many student musicians.  The full program of abstracts.  The full program of abstracts.

The more than 180 students were mentored by 58 Sewanee and eight faculty/graduate students from Tennessee–Knoxville/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt, and Yale.  The 71 poster presentations were in Art & Art History, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Studies, Forestry & Geology, International & Global Studies, Mathematics, Physics, Politics, Psychology, and included interdisciplinary projects such as those in Art & Environmental Studies and Biology & Spanish.  The 47 oral presentations were in Anthropology, Art & Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Education, English, Environmental Studies, History, International & Global Studies, Music, Politics, Religion, Spanish, and Theatre (including Dance).

Nakeirah Christie ’15, Hannah Fay ’15, Amy Lee ’16, Jordan Grant ’15, Sheana Algama ’15, Y-Nhi Nguyen ’15, Lester Paul Sands ’17, and Fridien Nana Tchoukoua ’17.  Comparison of toxicity and aggregation of ataxin-3 protein in muscle and neuronal cells of C. elegans.  Department of Biology.  Mentor, Assistant Professor Elise Kikis.  Second Place, McCrady Prizes for Posters in Biological Sciences.

Machado Joseph Disease (MJD) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by an expansion of CAG (polyQ) repeats within the gene that codes for the ataxin-3 protein. This expansion is correlated to protein aggregation and a toxic-gain of function, but understanding of the cellular mechanism has yet to be elucidated. Our lab utilizes the model organism C. elegans to investigate the toxicity and aggregation of the ataxin-3 protein. Specifically, we are interested in how cellular protein homeostasis (“proteostasis”) impacts aggregation and toxicity of the mutated protein; consequently, we are interested in how the protein functions in different tissues. To answer this question we characterized C. elegans expressing the C-terminal fragment of ataxin-3 with various polyQ tract lengths in either body wall muscle cells or neurons. After performing motility assays, fluorescence microscopy, and qRT-PCR of HSP genes, our preliminary data suggest that a) both cell lines demonstrate a direct relationship between length of polyQ expansion and severity of aggregation and toxicity and b) that only the aggregation and toxicity of the neuronal lines is age-dependent.

Hallie Crosby ’16.  Predicting Mentalizing Abilities in Adolescents with N170 Amplitude and Latency.  Yale University:  Child Study Center: Developmental Electrophysiology Laboratory.  Mentors, Associate Research Scientist Helena Rutherford and Distinguished Visiting Professor Linda Mayes.  Second Place, McCrady Prizes for Posters in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Mentalization is the process of interpreting mental states of others and is the determinant of actions. Emotions can be inferred from facial expression, voices, and whole-body movements, while eye gaze direction and body movements can be used to read desires and intentions. Children with ASD have been found to lack the metalizing abilities normally seen in children, and has been partially attributed to them focusing their attention on the mouth rather than the eyes of others. The N170 is an ERP component that distinguishes faces from objects. Negative and neutral male and female faces were used to generate N170 ERP data, and the significance of emotion, gender, and hemisphere on the data was investigated. Participants also completed the RMET. Their RMET accuracy scores were then correlated to their N170 amplitude and latency data generated from the faces. We investigated the possibility of the N170 data being able to predict how the participant would score on the RMET.

Jordan Buck ’15, Alysse Schultheis ’16, and Jessica Siegel.  Effects of Early Adolescent Methamphetamine and Nicotine Exposure on Behavior and Cognition in Adolescent Mice.  Mentor, Assistant Professor Jessica Siegel.  First Place, McCrady Prizes for Posters in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

The rising rates of adolescent methamphetamine (MA) use necessitate that we understand the effects of MA exposure on the brain. Adolescent MA users show high rates of nicotine (NIC) use and NIC can mediate the effects of MA. Adolescent male C57BL/6J mice were administered meth, nicotine, meth and nicotine, or saline over 2 days. Mice were tested in the open field test, novel object recognition test, Porsolt forced swim test, Morris water maze, and MA-induced conditioned place preference to evaluate locomotor and anxiety-like behavior, object memory, depression-like behavior, spatial memory, and MA craving, respectively. The mice administered MA or NIC spent more time in the center of the open field, indicating increased risk taking compared to the other groups. There was a trend for decreased corticosterone in MA-exposed mice compared to saline-exposed mice. These results contribute to a greater understanding of how concurrent MA and NIC exposure affects an understudied age group.

Simey Emerson ’16.  Cognitive Abnormalities in Obsessive Compulsion Disorder.  Yale University:  Department of Psychiatry, OCD Research Clinic.  Mentor, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychiatry Patricia Gruner.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is associated with cognitive inflexibility. In this study, our long-term goal is to improve OCD by ameliorating cognitive inflexibility, through specific mental exercises – cognitive remediation. A critical first step towards this goal is to investigate the nature of the cognitive inflexibility seen in OCD patients. To do so, we administered cognitive tasks to OCD patients and controls with a computerized battery.

Hannah Fay ’15, Nakeirah Christie ’15, and Sheana Algama ’15.  The effect of a disease-associated ataxin-3 protein expressed in different tissue types on the organismal heat shock response in C. elegans.  Department of Biology.  Mentor, Assistant Professor Elise Kikis.

Polyglutamine (polyQ) expansions are associated with a number of neurodegenerative disorders. One of these disorders, Machado-Joseph Disease is caused by the expansion of a polyQ-encoding CAG repeat in the gene encoding the ataxin-3 protein. Using ataxin-3 with various polyQ tract lengths fused to YFP and expressed in C. elegans, we study protein aggregation and toxicity associated with polyQ expansions. Specifically, we are interested in whether the expression of ataxin-3 with an expanded polyQ tract affects the ability to launch a protective heat shock response. We expressed ataxin-3 with various polyQ lengths in body wall muscle cells or neurons and monitored the transcription of genes that are normally induced in response to an acute temperature stress. Our preliminary data suggest that while completely abolishing neuronal function blocks the organismal heat shock response, expression of ataxin-3 with 75 glutamines has little effect on either motility or the heat shock response.  [oral presentation]

Garrett Heatherly ’16, Casey Hassett ’16, Jamie Chauvin ’16, and Jordan D. Troisi, Ph.D.  Have Your Cake and Eat It Too:  Emotional and Relational Correlates of Comfort Foods.  Mentor, Assistant Professor Jordan Troisi.

Previous studies support the role of social surrogates as temporary replacements for social interaction (e.g., watching a favorite television show, or eating a comfort food). The current study measured liberal arts students’ attitudes toward comfort foods via an online survey. The survey included both open-ended and close-ended questions, allowing participants to describe associations with comfort food, and measuring participant’s mood before and after consuming comfort foods. The data suggest that comfort foods decrease negative mood (e.g., loneliness), and tended to be associated with relational words (e.g., family, home, warmth, etc.)

Britta Carlson ’15, and Nathan Warren ’15.  The Effects of Error Management Training (EMT) on Critical Thinking.  Mentor, Visiting Assistant Professor Timothy Jesurun.  Third Place, McCrady Prizes for Posters in Behavioral and Social Sciences.

This research project looks at the effectiveness of error management training (EMT) on critical thinking skills. EMT is a technique that explicitly encourages learners to make errors under the assumption that students learn better from their mistakes. Students were placed in one of four different training conditions and their mean scores on an argument evaluation test were compared. Students were in one of four groups depending on whether they read or wrote about logical arguments and whether they were exposed to successes or mistakes beforehand. We used argument evaluation as a narrow measurement of critical thinking and we hypothesized that students in the active error condition would learn the most. We also surveyed individual differences to determine what types of people were most affected by the different training procedures, with tests of IQ, stress reactivity, and conscientiousness. Implications for critical thinking training in the college student population are investigated.

Jinni Tran ’16, Mary Perez ’17, Alex Macias ’15, and Andrea Ortiz ’16.  STAR Students Community Project:  English as Second Language for Native-Spanish Speakers at Tracy City Elementary.  Department of Spanish.  Mentor, Assistant Professor Manuel Chinchilla.

The overall purpose of this program is to develop a concrete space for intersectionality between languages where young students of diverse backgrounds can enhance their language skills to exceed in their current academic environment. We were able to meet the students and deliberate their difficulties with the language barrier. Our program complements what the student will be learning in school and provide one-on-one attention. We help the students with homework, answer their questions, listen to their doubts, and give them extra practice by reading, writing, and conversing with them in English. Because we tutors can speak Spanish, we become a source of comfort, familiarity, and consistency to kids who experience constant uncertainty due to language barriers and cultural differences. [oral presentation]

Scholarship Sewanee, a campus-wide celebration of student scholarship and creative activity, is made possible by numerous generous benefactors including Walter and Mayna NanceThe Andrew W. Mellon Foundation;  The Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee;  The Office of the Dean of the College;  Denise Davis;  Erin Cassell;  Physical Plant Services;  and Print Services.