Rachel Noyes, Biochemistry ’13, received funding from the H&S Educational Grant Initiative and the Ithaca Fund to help support a loss-of-function analysis for one of the genes she is working on in my lab. In addition, she was awarded a Dana Internship to fund her research in the lab during the summer of 2012.
"Molecular Mechanisms of Somatosensory Development and Function"
The somatosensory system is a network of nerves that detects mechanical, thermal, and chemical stimuli. The trigeminal sensory ganglion detects stimuli to the head and sends this information to the spinal cord. In humans, this sensory circuit is activated in simple ailments such as headaches and toothaches, and also contributes to more serious conditions such as migraines and chronic pain. Neurons in this system are functionally diverse and include specific subtypes that respond to various innocuous and noxious stimuli.
While the different types of neurons are already well known, the manner in which each develops is largely mysterious. An improved understanding how these neurons develop would contribute to the study of neurogenesis and specialization, but more importantly, is crucial to uncovering treatments for people suffering from disorders of the nervous system. Zebrafish are ideal for this research because their transparent embryos allows for easy observation of the developing neurons. In addition, the zebrafish is amenable to both high-throughput behavioral analysis and genetic manipulation.
The purpose of my research is to determine the roles of specific genes in the development and function of trigeminal sensory neurons. These genes code for proteins that may regulate the shape of the neurons and the connectivity of the network. In previous work, my advisor, Dr. Woods, isolated genes that are expressed specifically in somatosensory neurons. Moreover, he has identified potential genes that varied between the types of somatosensory neurons.
I have been working to verify the presence of ten of these candidate genes in trigeminal sensory neurons to confirm that their expression varies between the stimulus-specific subtypes. After verification, I will identify two of the most promising candidates for further functional studies. The specific request of this funding proposal is to obtain materials necessary to knock out, or mutate, two candidate genes and thus to determine how these genes regulate the development and function of the trigeminal sensory system. By completing the verification stage of this research by the end of this summer and initiating the knockout studies, I will be poised to continue into the next stage of this project in the Fall, and with this opportunity I hope to obtain publishable results by the time I graduate.
This project will (1) introduce me to cutting-edge techniques and concepts in development, neurobiology, and behavior, (2) immerse me in the realities of academic research and its suitability as a possible career choice, (3) allow me to obtain sufficient results to present my research at regional and national conferences and (4) provide me the opportunity to potentially publish my work in peer-reviewed journals. I will work closely with my advisor Dr. Woods to fulfill all of these goals.