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Address: 2110 ML
Phone: (319) 353-5698
Mentor: Nandakumar Narayanan, MD, PhD
Undergraduate Institution: Allegheny College, Meadville, PA, BS
Year Entered Into Program: 2012
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes motor disabilities and cognitive dysfunctions due to the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) and ventral tegmental area (VTA). PD mainly affects individuals over the age of 50 and is estimated to affect 200 out of 100,000 people. Much of the research done on PD concentrates on the motor symptoms leaving the pathways involved in the cognitive dysfunctions less well understood. The cognitive and executive dysfunctions seen in PD include deficits in short-term memory, planning, timing, and disordered thought. It is hypothesized that these symptoms are due to the degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons in the mesolimbic and mesocortical pathways, projecting from the VTA to the limbic cortices and neocortex, respectively. The overall goal of my research is to explore the role of dopamine (DA) signaling in the prefrontal cortex and its role in the cognitive symptoms of PD in different animal models of the disease. Specifically, I will test 1) the hypothesis that prefrontal neurons encoding timing are impaired after DA depletion in the VTA, and 2) that stimulating prefrontal neurons expressing D1 receptors rescues timing deficits in mice with VTA 6-hydroxydopamine lesions.
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