Dopaminergic Neurons: That’s Pretty Dope

First full week at the Mooney Lab: complete. What can I say, this week has assuredly presented some steep learning curves. From accidentally sacking my bird (an affectionate euphemism I suppose) during a brain injection surgery to being unable to find the left ventricle during a perfusion (the process of draining the blood from a sacked bird), this week has posed many challenges. Nevertheless, learning all of these techniques and being thrown into the deep end of neurobiology research is quite exhilarating. I constantly find myself thinking, “Woah, this is sooo cool! (for lack of better words haha).” 

In the short time I have spent with the lab, I am by no means an expert on the project I am about to conduct; however, I will try my best to explain it here. Yet, before I do that, I think it will be helpful to define a few terms (learning these definitely helped me in understanding my project):

dopaminergic neuron cells: a class of neurons that synthesize the molecule dopamine

tyrosine hydroxylase (TH): enzyme that is essential in the synthesis of dopamine; all dopaminergic cells will have the TH enzyme

VTA/SNc: areas located in the midbrain of the zebra finch that are noted by a high concentration of dopaminergic cells

green fluorescent protein (GFP): protein that fluoresces green when exposed to certain wavelengths of light; commonly used as a reporter of gene expression

For my project, I will be testing whether a new cell editing technology is functional and expressed in the dopaminergic neuron cells of the zebra finch. For proprietary reasons, I can’t say the name or describe exactly how this new technology works. However, at a surface level, the technology is able to recognize and bind to a chosen RNA sequence within a cell (in my specific case, it is the sequence that encodes the TH enzyme for dopaminergic neurons). The technology also contains the sequence for GFP. If the technology successfully binds to the TH sequence, then GFP should be expressed. To test this, I will surgically inject the technology into the VTA/SNc region of the zebra finch and “let it sit” for around a month. After this waiting period, I will sack the bird and analyze the dopaminergic neurons within the VTA/SNc and determine if the technology was successful. 

So, in a nutshell, that’s my project! Right now, I am familiarizing myself and learning how to conduct all of the necessary techniques. So, I still have a little time before I actually start the experiment. For now, it’s just learning surgical procedures and how to do bird haircuts (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like).

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