Microglia and Mice and Disorder, Oh My!

Going into week four of BSURF I was so excited to hear about all the great work my peers are doing in the lab. As the summer continues, I’m gaining a more holistic view of what science is and what scientific research looks like. From this week alone, I have learned so much about what biological research here at Duke encompasses, from studying the ultrasonic vocalizations of mice in helium to making mutant enzymes to degrade plastic. I would just like to thank everyone for sharing the stories of their research this week, you all did a great job!

One project that really stood out to me was Kat Beben’s. She is working in Dr. Staci Bilbo’s lab this summer and is characterizing the development of microglia in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of mice. Kat outlined the full goal of Dr.Bilbo’s lab: understanding the prenatal factors (genes, the environment, maternal stress) that can lead to autism spectrum disorder. Through previous research, the lab has come to identify microglia, the immune cells of the brain, as being important for synaptic pruning and refinement, making their disfunction detrimental to biological systems, notably resulting in an autistic phenotype, as shown in mice. The lab is asking if combined prenatal stressors alter this synapse formation and refinement. They are specifically looking at the ACC, since this cortical region is involved with emotional processing, learning, and memory. As Kat works to characterize the normal microglial development in mice, hopefully we can better understand how various stressors disrupt this pathway.

I found it really interesting how the meticulous study and manipulation of such a small system can have such a large and significant impact. In my experience in learning about neuroscience, the function and influence of microglia has often been overlooked, but it is clearly not to be taken lightly. I really admire the work this lab is doing, and it reinforces to me the importance of biological research. As Dr. G reminds us, science isn’t just moving colorless liquids from one vial to the next, although I’m sure we’ve all done this. It’s about discovering more and more about our universe, one question at a time. I can’t wait to see what we uncover!

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