A return to neuroendocrinology

There was a symposium this morning on Neurohormones, Brain & Behavior. (Awesome.) One of the researchers that gave a talk is Molly Dickens, currently at postdoc at UC Berkeley. The title was “Sex, stress, and rapid estradiol changes in the male brain.” I went to her poster later in the afternoon and ended up sending her an email to see if she has time to chat with me more tomorrow, because she was swarmed the whole time. She studies fine-tuned endocannabinoid control of the HPA axis-stress response in birds. She wanted to see if the well-characterized mammalian model of this system held up in an avian model. It sort of did, but the responsible neurotransmitters were switched in their role. Honestly, I can’t even speak that much on it because it was a lot of information and large words to wrap my brain around at once. A lot of keeping track of this goes up, this goes down, this happens…etc.

But this is exactly the kind of thing I want to know more about. How do these little molecules interact in different contexts to produce complex behaviors like a stress response? So that’s why I want to talk to her. I’d love to know more about why she was particularly interested in birds, what her findings implicate for our understanding of the HPA axis generally, and what she thinks about where science stands on what we do and do not know about the interaction of neurotransmitters. So hopefully she’ll email me back 🙂

Another talk today was by a Dr. Calisi from Columbia. She studies GnRH and GnIH (just like my lab now!) in response to seasonal and social and other rapid changes in behavior. I actually spoke with one of her undergrads on the very first day here – they found that not only do GnRH neuron numbers get up-regulated during periods of reproductive activity, the soma size of these brain cells increases too. The Heideman lab at W&M has published papers on the GnRH neuron number being related to reproductive phenotype in short day photoperiods, but to my knowledge we haven’t looked at soma size. Really cool stuff. I asked the undergrad what about the soma size was significant and he said this was still under investigation. Because to me, one of two things can be happening. Either the increased soma size simply means more protein production means more neural activity of said protein, OR the size is somehow else related to increased neuronal activity. Because it’s known that GnRH’s action is really dependent upon timed pulses of activity. So how might size be related to that? It’d be cool to do an electrophysiology study on that somehow.

I’ve met so many cool people here. I’ve really clicked with my two roommates (both students at Columbia, ironically. They’re awesome and so fun to talk to.) and it’s been the coolesst experience to meet and hang out with some of Eli’s friends. They’re more established in their career paths but they’re still down to earth and easy to talk to and don’t mind hanging out with a not-quite-22-year old. It’s great to hear their advice and about their experiences in grad school and beyond.

Mostly, it’s just the best to be around people that are as into science as I am. Everyone wants to talk about their research if you ask them. Genuinely, you’ll never get an eye roll or a “why don’t we not talk about work” comment. It’s cool to be in a place where it feels like you’re on a similar brainwave as everyone else, and where a phrase like “You’re not married to vertebrates are you? Because invertebrates are the best to work on.” is totally normal. I <3 science.