Science professor and eight students are published in Brain Research
March 31, 2011 By Leigh Cocanougher
eight Centre students on an article recently published in the
scientific journal Brain Research. “Our study examined the
neurotransmitters produced in a subset of neurons in the rat
cerebral cortex, which is the region of the brain that functions in
higher cognition,” Asmus says.
“Working with Dr. Asmus is a privilege,” says paper co-author
Ben Cocanougher ’11, “because he’s thorough in his explanations,
making difficult concepts accessible and fully explaining the
purpose of each step in a procedure. He also allows students to
learn and work independently and formulate their own ideas
about the results.”
Student-faculty collaboration is the norm at Centre College, and a recent article published in the journal Brain Research is one excellent example. Written by biology and BMB professor Steve Asmus and eight Centre students, the article appears in the February 3 issue of the journal.
The paper, “Increasing proportions of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive interneurons colocalize with choline acetyltransferase or vasoactive intestinal peptide in the developing rat cerebral cortex,” is authored by Asmus, Ben Cocanougher ’11, D.J. Allen ’13, J.B. Boone ’11, Lily Brooks ’14, Sarah Hawkins ’10, Laura Hench ’12, Talha Ijaz ’09 and Meredith Mayfield ’11.
“Our study examined the neurotransmitters produced in a subset of neurons in the rat cerebral cortex, which is the region of the brain that functions in higher cognition,” Asmus says.
“There are two types of neurons that make up the cortical circuitry, projection neurons and interneurons. The interneurons make local connections and are important for information processing.”
The research team studied a subset of interneurons that produce tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the enzyme necessary to synthesize dopamine. Using antibodies and fluorescence microscopy to visualize additional molecules in these TH cells to assess their function, they found that in the developing rat brain, many TH-producing neurons also produce choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), the enzyme that synthesizes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and many TH interneurons also contain vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP).
“Previous reports have shown that interneurons producing acetylcholine and VIP regulate blood flow in the cortex,” Asmus explains. “After staining for blood vessels using an antibody against a marker called aquaporin 4, we found that many TH/ChAT- and TH/VIP-coproducing neurons sit right next to cortical blood vessels. Our results suggest that at least some cortical TH neurons may play a role in the regulation of cortical blood flow. I’m currently studying TH neurons in the human cortex, with the ultimate goal of understanding their function and possible involvement in neurological disorders.”
Allen, who began helping with the research project just two days after graduating from high school, says that in the beginning, “it was quite a challenge doing undergraduate research without having done any college science courses. But I had the pleasure to work with experienced upperclassmen Laura and Sarah and to learn from Dr. Asmus, and what I found most rewarding was being able to finally see science not as a endless array of formulas and knowledge to memorize and conquer but as a way of life.”
Allen also believes that the research “helped me develop my skills in teamwork, public speaking, research, lab techniques and the overall scientific approach. The research experiences that I’ve had at Centre are hopefully just a first step in a long line of research projects that I’ll be a part of and maybe someday lead.”
Brooks, who says that when she began doing the research with Asmus she knew very little about the subject, says, “By the end of my time researching, I was able to discuss the subject in an informed manner. Learning is enhanced in the research environment because it’s hands-on and team effort. I learned from Dr. Asmus, my fellow researchers, books, other research papers and from carrying out the research.”
She adds that “this research was a team effort, and it helped prepare me for the team setting that is often present in many aspects of life. It was also a setting that provided knowledge that can’t be found in the classroom. There won’t always be classrooms and teachers in life, but learning is something that people should do and want to do for the rest of their lives.”
To read the research’s team article in Brain Research, click here.