Tag Archives: autism

The Effects of Anti-Depressants on the Developing Tadpole Brain

How do our bodies form the brain, its most complex organ? Developmental neuroscientists seek to answer this question by studying both the genetically-driven processes and the external, environmental forces that can intervene as well. Exploring how the environment can affect our brains through chemical, physical, and other stimuli opens new avenues for understanding, treating, and perhaps preventing several prominent neurological disorders. This past summer, I studied how exposure to the common antidepressant fluoxetine affects the brain during development. While children typically do not receive antidepressants, expecting mothers experiencing depression or having a history of depression are often prescribed such medication to resolve their symptoms and protect the fetus from the established harmful effects of stress. However, several case studies have shown that administration of fluoxetine is associated with the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) later on in the child’s life. Here, we seek to understand how fluoxetine exposure influences brain development at the neuron, circuit, and network levels. By using tadpoles, we can not only simulate a biological equivalent prenatal exposure, but also perform both behavioral and electrophysiology experiments to assess autism-like behaviors and individual neuron properties, network connectivity, and the population distribution of different types of neurons (excitatory, inhibitory, etc.).

My electrophysiology setup

Electrophysiology comprised most of my research and of my troubles! I performed whole-cell patch clamp recording, meaning that I recorded from the inside of a single neuron from the tadpole brain. This technique allowed me to study a wide variety of characteristics about the neuron, but was an extremely difficult method to learn. My first few weeks consisted primarily of learning the technique as well as troubleshooting my electrophysiology setup or “rig”. It took both creativity and persistence to return to the rig each day, ready to fix whatever problem occurs next and continually hope to acquire data. With the completion of this fellowship, I see research undoubtedly in a more realistic light. Rarely was it that experiments work perfectly. Good scientists are those who return to the lab bench with new ideas and an eagerness to learn and collaborate with others.


In fact, each day of my experience as a scientist this summer was marked by learning. Whether it was learning a new experimental technique or reading new journal publications or simply hearing about the more senior lab members’ tales in electrophysiology, I was always learning in the lab. Lab meetings were the highlight of the week, as we would all give updates on our individual projects that led to fascinating discussions for future directions. Above all else, this fellowship has imbedded the importance of collaborative learning within a diverse group of scientists. We all have our unique contributions to give, and I hope to continue expanding my own throughout my academic and scientific career.

Karine Liu attends Brown University in Providence, RI . She is a 2017 Undergraduate Research Excellence Fellow (UGREF) doing research in Dr. Carlos Aizeman’s lab at Brown University. In the future, she hopes to attend medical school and ultimately specialize in neurology or neuro-oncology.


Organohalogen Pollutants Causing Neurodevelopment Errors from Endocrine Disruption

My project is about an organohalogen, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), found in many flame retardants in the United States. I am studying this particular compound because it has been known to show disruption of the endocrine system in the body. PBDEs are known to be dispersed into the environment because over time they separate from the flame retardant mixture, usually present in dust particles, making it easier for inhalation. PBDEs mimic a hormone called vasopressin in the brain. Vasopressin pathways may regulate paternal behaviors, aggression, and associations in monogamous relationships between individuals. In previous studies, PBDEs were found in breast milk and are believed to increase externalizing behaviors such as hyperactivity, abnormal social memory, as well as repetitive behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Hoffman et. al). I am studying if there is a elicited phenotype within the generations of mice offspring who have been exposed to the chemical through gestation and lactation. I will be putting the offspring through behavioral tests to test their social behaviors, sensory-motor skills, as well as their anxiety/ depression. I expect the offspring that received the higher and lower dosage of PBDEs will show more hyperactivity and less anxiety, while the control group will show a normal phenotype found in most mice. This project is important because California has had the highest levels of this chemical in the United States. This chemical is not covalently bonded to its surfaces, causing it to be collected as dust and can be inhaled by humans. Studying the effects of PBDEs can bring more of an understanding to how there is neurodevelopment disruption and in turn help create an awareness of this toxicant and its effects on the body.

Life in the Lab

Being able to do research in a lab has been quite exciting. I enjoy running experiments and putting to practice the material I have learned in lecture. I learned many new techniques through the relationships I have built while working in this lab such as perfusions, neuroimaging, brain cutting and mounting, as well as how to run a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). I was also able to teach my colleagues how to do some of the experiments I do for my project. I have been volunteering at this lab for almost a year now and am accustomed to the length of certain experiments and how much work goes into research. I have conducted many behavioral tests to examine the sensorimotor skills and anxiety of the mice. My behavioral tests have had a significant trend within different treatment groups. The results of my anxiety tests were skewed; this could have been due to some changes in lighting or previous stress on the mice. I expected to see that the higher and lower dosage of the PBDE offspring would have less anxiety in both males and females. However, this was only true for the males. The females’ data was more scattered and less predictable, while the control group showed more anxiety, which, is a normal characteristic in most mice. I have an upcoming experiment doing this anxiety test again and hopefully the data will be less skewed and follow the trend I am looking for in the PBDE dosed offspring.

My time spent here at the lab has actually been very enjoyable. I have been working six days a week (Monday-Friday and Sunday mornings). I come in at about eight in the morning every day to dose my animals and check their daily food and water intake. I then prepare to do my behavioral experiments and neuroimaging. When I am not doing these experiments my colleagues show me how to do some of the experiments they are working on. One of the best parts of working in this lab is the friendships I have gained and the connections I have established with the other lab I am collaborating with on my project. It has helped me to learn more about the different protocols and the differences between my lab and theirs. One of the worst things about being a scientist is when you come across a problem you are not sure how to solve. Asking others has helped so far, but not everyone understands my project and it becomes irritating. Despite that, being a scientist has been very enjoyable for me and it is making me consider going into research as a profession.


  1. Hoffman, Kate, Margaret Adgent, Barbara Davis Goldman, Andreas Sjodin, and Julie L. Daniels. “Lactational Exposure to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Its Relation to Social and Emotional Development among Toddlers.” Environmental Health Perspectives 120.10:1438-1442, 2012.
Laura Anchondo is a Junior at the University of California, Riverside in Riverside, CA. She is a 2017 Integrative Organismal Systems Physiology (IOSP) Fellow working in Dr. Margarita Curras-Collazo’s lab at the University of California, Riverside. Laura’s fellowship is funded by the APS and a grant from the National Science Foundation Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) (Grant #IOS-1238831). After graduation, her plans are to go into either pharmacy school or graduate school.