Why do we sometimes get distracted by things around us and what is happening in the brain when this happens? Distractions are a way of pausing what we are doing to check whether something important is occurring in our environment. In an animal like a rat this might mean being alert to potential threats (eg predators) even while in the middle of a meal.
Junk food is both appetizing and consists of high-energy nutrients, which is why the consumption of junk food plays a central role in weight gain, obesity and the associated health risks. To study the effects of junk food on different on different aspects of health, researchers have to use standardized diets, very often in animal models. The Cafeteria (CAF) diet model for animal experiments consists of the same tasty but unhealthy food products that people eat (e.g. hot dogs and muffins), and considers variety, novelty and secondary food features, such as smell and texture. This model, therefore, mimics human eating patterns better than other models.
We are looking for three enthusiastic colleagues who would like to build and advance their career in the field of behavioral neuroscience. The ideal candidates will have previous research experience with laboratory animals, be interested in cutting-edge neuroscientific techniques and be able to and interested in working in a team.
Sex hormones, such as estrogens and testosterone, are well known to be important for the menstrual cycle, development of sex specific characteristics, and gain of muscle mass. We understand the mechanisms behind these hormonal actions. Still subject to research is how sex hormones in the brain affect sexual behavior, aggression, and even memory. In our latest research project, carried out in Minneapolis with our collaborators, we discovered that in rats, male sex hormones change the structure of neurons in certain brain areas that are involved in the regulation of sexual behavior, motivation, and reward. These findings, published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology , shine some light on how sex hormones might ultimately influence behavior.
Getting enough protein in our food is crucial for health and development. When we are still growing this protein is especially important. In this study, we looked at how inadequate dietary protein affects brain function both when rats were adults and during their adolescence. We used a recording technique called fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, and saw that low protein diets affected the release of dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter for motivation and learning. Interestingly, the consequence of the low protein diet differed depending on the age of the rats and had stronger effects in adolescent animals than in adults. This research, published as open access in Neuropsychopharmacology , highlights the vulnerability of the brain to dietary deficiencies during development.
Consolation behavior is a type of prosocial behavior that is aimed at an individual in distress. Typically, it involves physical closeness and contact, which has a calming effect on the distressed individual. In our society, it is behavior that we easily recognize, but consolation is not a purely human phenomenon: chimpanzees, dogs, elephants and prairie voles are some of the animals that console each other when the going gets tough. Based on our latest research, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, we might be able to add rats to the list of animals that are capable of consoling each other.
When pregnant women get depressed, they often get treated with the antidepressant fluoxetine. Using this antidepressant is generally safe and can be necessary to lessen the effects of depression. Still, it has been difficult to find out if this drug has damaging long-term effects on the children of these mothers. In our latest work, we have found that adult rats behave differently when their mothers were given fluoxetine during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Social behavior and coping with stress are types of behavior that appear to be changed. The findings are published in the journal Neuropharmacology.
We are beyond proud to announce that our postdoc Jaume Ferrer won a very prestigious, EU funded, Marie Curie individual fellowship. With this grant, Jaume will study the effects of junk food on the reward system. In other words, the mechanisms by which unhealthy food modifies our brain in relation to our motivations and rewards
We hadn't even properly introduced the new associate professor of our research group, when Dr. James McCutcheon was awarded a Starting Grant from Tromsø Forskningstiftelse. He will now be able to build his own research team, which will work to find out how animals regulate their intake of protein.
Helsinki formed the stage on which this year's Nordic Neuroscience meeting took place. After Trondheim in 2015 and Stockholm in 2017, this was the third time the biennial conference was organized. We were there to present our latest research.
We are pleased to announce that last November, Helse Nord RHF awarded us a sizeable grant (3.25 million Norwegian krone). Starting in september 2019, this money will be used in the project: "The risk of excessive junk food consumption on the brain reward system. A translational study."
Scientific conferences are a good channel to communicate your research, learn about colleagues’ findings and experiences, get helpful input and forge collaborations. Conferences also can be the perfect backdrop to get together with old colleagues and friends. This year’s Dutch Neuroscience Meeting was all of this!
Being the northernmost neuroclub in the world is interesting, but every so often it can also be very advantageous to get inspired and strengthen collaborations abroad. Our department has kindly offered to support the scientific development of our group by enabling a stay at a foreign university.
PhD student Patty Huijgens is currently overseas, doing research in the lab of Professor Robert Meisel at the University of Minnesota. She sent us a stunning photo she made, showing dendritic spines in different brain areas.
Last week UiT became a full partner of the Norwegian Research School of Neuroscience (NRSN). This means new opportunities for both PhD students and Faculty.
After a day filled with four thought-provoking lectures and excellent questions from the audience, the only conclusion we were able to draw was: let's do this again!