Department of Psychology
The Neurobiology of the Impact of Innocuous Experience on Later Learning
Conditioned taste aversion (CTA) is a simple adaptive form of animal learning whereby a food that causes gastric distress is rendered aversive. Previous research done in the Katz Lab has suggested that experience with salty and sour tastes can alter a rat’s ability to learn an aversion to sweetness; that is to say that experience with multiple flavors strengthens the rat’s conditioned taste aversion to sucrose.
The present study begins our inquiry into the neurobiological underpinnings of this phenomenon. Using c-FOS, a protein byproduct expressed by recently active neurons, I have focused on the gustatory cortex (GC) — a region known to be involved in taste learning. Based on previous studies showing an increase in c-FOS labeling with learning, we hypothesized a difference in the increase in c-FOS expression in GC for rats with prior taste experience. It was found that rats who had prior experience demonstrated less c-FOS. Further investigation showed this result differed for different sub-regions of GC. Specifically, learning in rats that were not preexposed to a taste array involved larger increases in c-Fos towards the posterior section of GC, whereas rats that were pre-exposed showed equal amounts of c-FOS across GC. This led us to conclude that taste experience changes the way that the gustatory cortex processes novel tastes.
The M.R. Bauer Foundation summer undergraduate research fellowship has given me the opportunity to continue my research in the Katz Lab over this past summer. I joined the Katz lab my second semester of freshman year as a naïve freshman with plans to become a doctor. In the Katz Lab, however, I have become aware of the range of career paths that I might want to go down. I made the decision to apply to the M.R. Bauer Foundation summer grant in hopes of better understanding what a career in research would entail. This summer opportunity gave me the unique chance to focus on my research without the pressures and distraction of managing a full course load.
While I have not been able to completely make a decision on whether I will choose medical school or graduate school, this opportunity has given me valuable information that will ensure that my decision is an informed one. I now understand what it means to organize a project, collect and analyze data, and build a scientific poster, all incredibly valuable pieces of information. I am incredibly grateful to have spent my summer working alongside talented and knowledgeable scientists and can only thank the M.R. Bauer Foundation for this incredible opportunity.