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Louis Martin, a student in the Neuroscience and Behavior PhD program at UNO, was recently lead author on a paper published in the journal Chemical Senses (February 2015). The senior author on the paper, Dr. Suzanne Sollars, is an associate professor of psychology and faculty member in the neuroscience program.

Early Nerve Injury May Permanently Alter Sensory Input to the Brain

While adults have difficulty recovering following injury to the brain, children show remarkable restoration of neural function after similar types of damage. The opposite is often true in the peripheral nervous system, however. For instance, the nerve that relays taste information from the front of the tongue to the brain, the chorda tympani nerve (CT), regenerates several weeks after it is surgically cut (CTX) in adult rats. Consequently, these animals experience an almost complete recovery of sensory function and taste-guided behavior. On the other hand, previous studies from our lab have shown that when CTX occurs 10 days after birth, the nerve fails to regenerate, taste buds innervated by the CT permanently disappear, and these rats gain abnormal taste preferences. The current study was performed to understand how the physiology of the taste system is altered after CTX in young rats. To test this, electrophysiological responses following taste stimulation were recorded in the nerve that innervates taste buds on the back of the tongue, the glossopharyngeal nerve (GL), two months after cutting the CT in 10-day-old rats. Additionally, taste responses from the CT were recorded one year after the contralateral CT was sectioned during this early developmental period. Rats with CTX had lower neural responses when sodium chloride (NaCl) solutions were applied to the tongue compared to control animals. This result shows that there may be a permanent decrease in receptors for sodium salts on the tongue after early CTX – even on areas of the tongue where the nerve is not present. Thus, there are likely circulating factors (such as neurotrophins or immune components) that affect receptors across the tongue when an injury occurs. Unlike the results of this study in neonates, adult CTX does not alter nerve responses, showing again the greater susceptibility of the developing taste system to injury. This suggests that developing animals are more susceptible to impaired function after neural injury. CT injury is not a rare occurrence in children; it can happen as a result of ear surgery or ear infections. The results of this study provide insight into potential mechanisms behind long-term taste alterations that can occur after such CT injury.

A full copy of the paper can be found here.

 

Feature Archive

Neuroscience

The study of the biological basis of behavior is one of the most rapidly growing
areas of life sciences, reflecting the importance of the fundamental and applied interest in how neurons work on an individual basis, and how collections of neurons mediate behavior  and cognition.

The College of Arts and Sciences at UNO has established the first undergraduate neuroscience degree program in the Nebraska system to educate students bound for graduate programs in neuroscience as well as various careers in the health or health-related fields.

Students working toward completion of this degree will benefit from the expertise of existing faculty in the UNO departments of Biology and Psychology along one of two tracks:  Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience or Integrative Behavioral Science.

An undergraduate major in neuroscience will place students in the position of
moving into one of multiple career trajectories upon completion of the degree.

First, graduates of the program will be in an excellent position to immediately and successfully be recruited by one of the more than 200 graduate programs in neuroscience and related areas, and pursue advanced degrees. These opportunities include working with faculty at UNMC’s growing training programs and opportunities.  The newly established Department of Pharmacology and Experimental  Neuroscience at UNMC brings together experts in neuropharmacology with those with expertise in neurodegenerative diseases, and new and exciting graduate programs are likely to emerge from this new department. Neuroscience and related disciplines constitute among the best funded and active programs at UNMC. The Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders (CNND) and the associated Neuroscience Research Training Program (NRTP) at UNMC constitute an important employment and training outlet for graduates of an undergraduate neuroscience major.

Second, graduates from either of the proposed neuroscience tracks would have most or all of the required courses for admission to medical schools, veterinary programs, and a host of other health-related professional programs.

Third, graduates of the neuroscience major will possess intellectual and methodological skill-sets that will make them highly attractive for laboratory technicians and assistants in local, regional, and national university and medical school laboratories.

Fourth, the growing emphasis on pharmaceutical agents that affect psychological function is driving employment in corporate pharmaceutical firms, for which graduates of the neuroscience major would be competitive.

Finally, students will emerge from the major with the ability to think across disciplines, to formulate questions and seek answers, to interpret data and draw conclusions, and to effectively communicate the outcome of these processes to a target audience. This suite of skills will make neuroscience majors eligible for a variety of career opportunities that are outside of the discipline of neuroscience.