Lab: EP 1213
Megan was born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta. She is presently doing her MSc in Dr. Bruce McNaughton’s lab using in vivo imaging techniques to study the impact of hippocampus in cortical brain plasticity (see research interests below). She grew up playing the saxophone, receiving a scholarship with the University of Lethbridge Saxophone quartet during her undergrad, and presently playing with a local wind ensemble. Throughout her career she has been involved in numerous laboratory settings, from industry to competing at MIT with the local University iGEM team. Academic lab work includes Dr. Keir Pearson’s physiology lab in Edmonton, focusing on the behavior of rat limb locomotion, and the sensory feedback/working memory that allows for correct hindlimb position during successful obstacle (hurdle) avoidance. Bryan Kolb’s behavioural neuroscience lab studying methylphenidate’s effects on rat behavior, and last but not least, John Vokey’s micro-cognition lab focusing on the classification of forensic fingerprints and diving into more advanced statistics. Lastly, Megan has had a successful year working with a young boy with autism.
What is the best way to describe and study the mysterious biological nature of memory?
Dendritic spines are a good place to start. Visual information in the way of observation is prone to skepticism and met with distrust. In the late 19th century spines were generally considered an artifact of Golgi staining and played no part in memory whatsoever. A famous scientist named Cajal changed this perception by persistently studying the biological relevance of spines in connecting axons and dendrites to one another. Their study and documentation has continued ever since, and is a fascinating area of study that can be furthered.
A large part of studying the brain comes with the sacrifice of animals, and we should appreciate the knowledge gained from them that we cannot gain from humans. An important similarity shared with lab animals is the presence of dendritic spines. Using two-photon laser scanning microscopy, microscale resolution images of mouse tissue were taken. These images provide time-series structural information about dendritic spines and axons; captured modifications of the same locations over weeks. These in vivo modifications represent brain plasticity during the initial stages of learning, including the exploration of a novel environment. The analysis and interpretations of such imaging data can have many possible forms, all with the central idea that spines are morphological in nature and serve as structures for learning and memory.
A fundamental difference between mouse retrosplenial hemispheres has been shown through pathological anatomy of unilateral hippocampal lesion images. Direct connections from the hippocampus to retrosplenial cortex are missing in all lesion hemispheres. Studying the role of hippocampal lesions on cortical tissue will further support that the hippocampus has an effect on both spine and axon morphology in other areas of the cortex. The hippocampus is constantly consolidating episodic memories (especially during quiet wakefulness and sleep) in order to navigate our ever- changing world. In such lesion animals, memories are mainly being consolidated to one hemisphere of the cortex rather than equally between the two, creating a fundamental divide.
Are other interpretations of such morphological data worthwhile? Possibilities include the creation of visual stereograms or interactive physicalizations to create 3D surfaces and handheld structures of complex dendritic patterns. Another technique being explored is a modification of the famous Sholl analysis. Adapted by using the music staff instead of a target to map the dendritic spines for sonifciation purposes. Can we learn more by listening than looking? What do spines sing and how do their songs change? Being open to multidisciplinary analysis will give us a richer perception of such rare data.
- Torry M.E. and Vokey J.R. (2005). Fingerprint Mathcing and Naive Observers. 24th Banff Annual Seminar in Cognitive Science (BASICS) (May 13-14), Banff, AB. (Presented Poster).
- Torry M.E.,Wieden H.J., et al. (2009). A Synthetic Future: Microcompartments, Nanoparticles and the Bio-Battery. iGEM competition and Jamboree, Massachusetts institute of technology (Oct.31-Nov.2), Cambridge. MA. (Presented Poster).
- Torry M.E and McNaughton B.L. (2017). Axon and Dendritic Spine Modifications Occur Simultaneously in the Brain. 13th Annual Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) Research Day (May 19), Calgary, AB. (Presented Poster).