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Inaugural Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship - Ian Longacre

Ian Longacre – an ETSU senior with a major in psychology and a minor in biology – is the recipient of one of ETSU’s inaugural Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships.  Ian received this award for his study entitled, "The D2 Reception Mediation of Nicotine Sensitization in D2-primed Adolescent Rats".

This study, done in collaboration with Dr. Russ Brown, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, utilizes a rodent model of schizophrenia to study the effects of nicotine on locomotor sensitization and its effects on dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain that mediates primary drug reinforcement.  Previous studies have shown that 80-90% of patients with schizophrenia also smoke cigarettes. Research has shown that nicotine appears to alleviate some of the symptoms of the disorder, and schizophrenics typically smoke at least 30-40% more cigarettes than the normal smoking population and have significantly higher plasma levels of nicotine than the normal smoking population. Obviously, smoking cigarettes also produces a poor general health outcome and nicotine is known to cause lung cancer symptomlogy of this condition. Ian hopes that this study will help to contribute to methods for treating tobacco addiction in individuals suffering from schizophrenia.

According to Ian, this study represents “a new wrinkle” on previous work by Dr. Brown – a fact which attracted him to Brown’s lab in the first place, along with his desire to work on health-related issues. This study is part of an ongoing research program studying the effects of psychostimulants in a hypersensitive dopamine system, and will serve in part as pilot data for an NIH R01 federal grant submission. 

Ian has enjoyed his experiences in Dr. Brown’s lab, especially the challenging aspects of conducting the study. “It’s the first time we’ve done this sort of thing in this lab,” says Ian. He also describes working with Dr. Brown as “fantastic,” and appreciates his accessibility to his students.  

Recent findings from Dr. Brown’s lab have shown that subchronic nicotine treatment in adolescence and adulthood produces a more robust locomotor sensitization response in rats that have a hypersensitive dopamine system. These findings appear to indicate that the dopamine system is further stimulated by nicotine in this model, suggesting that schizophrenics may smoke cigarettes due to an increased euphoric reaction to the drug.  Interestingly, Dr. Brown and a collaborating laboratory (Dr. Michael Williams, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine) have also shown that nicotine alleviates cognitive impairment in this model as well as significant decreases in neurotrophic factors, which are chemical messengers in the brain that are heavily involved synaptic growth and maintenance (Brown, et al., 2006; Synapse 59:253-59; Brown, et al., 2004 European Journal of Neuroscience 19(6):1634-42).  

Ian began his work at ETSU in the pre-med program and was accepted into the Honors-In-Discipline program in Psychology. He completed independent studies in several laboratories doing research in social and health psychology, as well as in behavioral neuroscience. As a result of these experiences in research, Ian has shifted his goal from medicine to a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience and a career in Neuroscience. He has had a presentation accepted at the Society for Neuroscience to be presented in Atlanta, GA, in October.

Ian attended the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, DC, November 2005, and co-authored two presentations at as well as the College of Problems in Drug Dependence conference held in Scottsdale, AZ, June 2006. Through Dr. Brown’s help and participation at these conferences, Ian has made contact with Assistant Professor Steven Harrod and Professor Rose Booze in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina, both of whom study the effects of nicotine on neurological mechanisms in the adolescent rat. Ian hopes to work with Drs. Harrod and Booze during his graduate studies. 

Ian says that he would advise any student to pursue one of the new Honors College Summer Research Fellowships. “Even if you’re not considering grad school,” he says, “the hands-on experience of working in a lab with a team like this gives you skills that will be useful for a career in almost any field. Too many people are intimidated by the connotations of research and science – that it happens in a vacuum or that you have to be ‘really smart.’ Research at the most basic level is just trying to systematically understand as much as possible about a topic of interest.” He advises students who are considering a research fellowship to “pick a topic and a lab that you find interesting or that’s related to your own interests, otherwise it can be like pulling teeth. Make sure that the work is something you’re passionate about.”

 

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