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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Lauren Hanson - Neurobiology & Public Health

Lauren Hanson pictureLauren Hanson is interested in the development of the human brain and the causes and treatment of neurological disorders. Having entered the neurobiology program a year early, Lauren gained the background and skills to immerse herself in the research that she is most passionate about for the remaining three years of her program. Lauren’s mentor describes her as the top student in her cohort in the neurobiology program; she is someone who produces the highest quality work in every aspect of her education. In terms of the goals of the Levinson scholarship, he says: “I cannot imagine a better candidate than Lauren. She really is an ‘emerging scholar’ in the best sense of the award. Granting her this award will enable an unusually talented student to experience a real long-term research project in a way that few students have the opportunity to do.” Lauren’s award will provide her with scholarship support, research books and supplies and conference travel.

Mentor: Professor William Moody, Department of Biology, Chair of Neurobiology

Project Title: Physiological properties of pacemaker neurons driving spontaneous activity in the neonatal mouse brain

Abstract: Spontaneous electrical activity plays a central role in nervous system development. In mouse cortex, spontaneous synchronous activity (SSA) is vital for processes such as the formation of appropriate synaptic connections and development of normal neuronal properties. For SSA to carry out its developmental functions, it must occur during the appropriate critical stages of development. SSA must also cease to provide for the correctly timed emergence of the mature information-processing functions of neurons. Therefore, how the developmental timing and generation of SSA are controlled is a major question in neurobiology. It has been determined that SSA is run by a pacemaker region in mouse cortex. By utilizing calcium imaging, extracellular recording, and whole cell recording techniques on mouse brain slices, I plan to learn a great deal about the specific location, characteristics, development and control of the pacemaker region responsible for SSA. I will identify the population of neurons that compose the pacemaker region and begin by investigating its developmental emergence. From this stems my investigation of the unique properties of the pacemaker cells. Understanding the emergence of the pacemaker function and the ways in which it controls the onset, activity, and cessation of SSA is vital in understanding the mechanisms of brain development. Continued exploration of the pacemaker region also has potential to improve understanding of later development when it may contribute to the mechanisms of pathological forms of synchronous activity, such as seizures.