University of Florida
2019 STRIDE Fellow
My Research Project
Because the central nervous system is in control of every process taking place within the body, an injury to this system can be detrimental and sometimes fatal. Injuries to the cervical region of our spinal cord can be extremely difficult because they often lead to breathing impairment. The phrenic motor nucleus in this region innervates our diaphragm, which controls inhalation by creating a negative pressure ventilation system.
It has been shown that acute intermittent levels of low oxygen help to address the concern for the functional recovery of breathing after injury. This occurs because the phrenic motor nucleus elicits neuroplasticity. A key protein, phosphorylated-ERK (p-ERK), is involved mechanistically in the phrenic motor nuclei response to varying levels of low oxygen.
P-ERK’s expression can be analyzed through epifluorescent microscopy. The cervical spinal cord tissues were harvested from rodents and stained using inmunoflouresence, – a procedure that stains the tissues in a way that allows them to emit certain colors when viewed on a microscope. We injected cholera toxin B between the pleural cavity in the outer layers of the rodents’ lungs before injury, which allowed for selective localization of phrenic neurons. We imaged this tissue to assess different expression patterns of p-ERK after spinal injury and varying levels of intermittent hypoxia.
Once we analyzed the expression of p-ERK in phrenic motor neurons after spinal injury and intermittent hypoxia we were able to develop a better understanding of intermittent hypoxia and its elicited plasticity after spinal injury. This research will guide therapeutic strategies for improving breathing in people with spinal injury.
Life as a Scientist
My experience as a scientist this summer opened my eyes to the realities that occur behind the scenes of groundbreaking research. For example, I always believed clinical trials to be amazing advancements in research, but never truly understood all of the experiments that take place before humans are even brought into the picture. The work done in our lab on rats propose a model for human experimentation. This opportunity has also made me realize that things may not always go exactly as planned the first time around and that is perfectly okay. Often, these trials and errors allow us to learn more about the research we are doing in order to propose different hypotheses or use alternate methods. There is no right or wrong when it comes to research because it is a learning and growing experience.
Elisa Gonzalez-Rothi, DPT, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Florida Department of Physical Therapy
Gordon S. Mitchell, PhD, Professor of Physical Therapy, University of Florida Department of Physical Therapy
Latoya Allen, PhD, University of Florida Department of Neuroscience
Marissa Ciesla, PhD, University of Florida Department of Neuroscience
Amari Thomas is a first-generation college student majoring in biology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She was born and raised in Miami Gardens, Florida, where access to research labs and quality educational resources are minimal. Due to her academic success in grade-school and extracurricular involvement, Amari was accepted into one of the top universities in the country for her undergraduate education. She has continued to thrive in her undergraduate career by gaining dean’s list awards for academics, mentorship positions and an outstanding fellowship from the American Physiological Society. By working in a research lab, Amari has expanded her career options and strengthened her knowledge of the human body and its many processes. She hopes to obtain a medical license after graduating and plans to apply the knowledge learned in the research lab. Amari is a 2019 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellow in the lab of Dr. Elisa Gonzalez-Rothi at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Amari’s fellowship is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI; R25 HL115473-01).