In the Caron lab, my project has largely been testing new schizophrenia drugs on the dopamine receptors. Because my interests in the sciences have largely revolved around pharmacology and cell biology, I have usually approached the concept of neuropsychiatric disorders as a dysregulation of neurotransmitter systems that can be fixed by the administration of a molecular substance (i.e. drug). This would involve knowledge of the receptor and the subsequent effects it has on the cell. This approach to these disorders focuses on abating symptoms once they are present in a patient (or forced in an animal model), and does not truly examine the causes of such disorders (but merely the effects). Thus, I was quite fascinated to hear about some of my colleague’s labs which focus on proposed causes for certain disorders, like the role of gut microbiota in contributing to depression.
One chalk talk that really grabbed my attention was the one given by Annika Sharma. In the talk, she stressed that experiments transferring fecal matter from a depressed mouse (mice eat poop) into a healthy mouse was able to induce depression in the healthy mouse, suggesting a role for the gut microbiota in facilitating connections with the brain (i.e. the gut-brain access). It is also known that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) patients have altered microbial compositions and many metabolites which play a role in depression are byproducts of gut microbiota. I was also rather shocked by the way in which her lab generates what it calls the social defeat paradigm. Essentially, to create a depressed mouse, it is left in the company of older, more aggressive mice that beat it up. The lab then extracts fecal matter from the depressed mouse and is able to run any series of tests that they want to determine, for instance, the presence or absence of certain metabolites. Overall, I was just interested in learning the many different ways in which researchers have approached certain disorders.