August 26, 2013




Canadian Center for Behavioural Neuroscience

University of Lethbridge





Dr. Artur Luczak

Dr. Gerlinde Metz

Keiko McCreary





Dr. David Euston

Dr. Robbin Gibb

Dr. Gerlinde Metz





Dr. Artur Luczak

Keiko McCreary




Sponsored by:


endMS Research and Training Network

Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group

Lethbridge chapter of SfN

Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience












This year Summer Student Symposium was great success with 20 excellent presentations from our students. I especially would like to congratulate to winners which were:


First Place: Kelly Mills (Gonzalez lab)

Second Place: Scott Wong (Gruber lab)

Third Place: Loni Harker (Kolb and Gibb labs)


Honorable mention:

Tyler Forster (McNaughton lab)

Natalie Wild (Tatsuno lab)


Special thanks to Gerlinde Metz and Keiko McCreary for wonderful organization of this year SSS, to judges:Drs. G. Metz, D. Euston and R. Gibb who had very difficult job this year due to high quality of presentations, and to our kind supporters: endMS research network, Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group, Lethbridge chapter of SfN, and CCBN.



Thank you all!


Dr. Artur Luczak




Symposium Program




10:00         GENERAL WELCOME


10:10-10:40 — MEMORY and THE HIPPOCAMPUS

Alexis Demecha “Analysis of Immediate Early Gene Detection Methods in Hippocampal Remapping Studies”

Tyler Forster “Trajectory Selection in the Hippocampus”

Brody Gordon “The Role of PKMζ in Precise Spatial Memory”


10:40-11:00 —  DECISION MAKING

Jenn VanOyen “Model-Based Reinforcement Learning Analysis of Decision-Making in Rats”

Aleigha Arksey “Prelimbic Involvement in Optimal Decision Making”


11:00-11:40 — MOTOR CONTROL and REACHING

Lauren A. Hall  “Peripheral Vision Reaching Task Differentiates Grasp From Reach Component”

Layne A. Lenhart  “Reaching and Grasping in Gesture-type Hand Movements”

Kelly Mills  “Tracking the Co-development of Language, Motor Development, and Executive Function in Children”

Brian Ficiur  “The Parallel Beam Task: A Sensitive Test for Skilled Limb Use”



Lauren Williams  “The Effect of Developmental Exposure to PCB-126 on American Mink Neocortex”

Janet Poplawski  “The Effects of Perfluoroundecanoic Acid (PFUnA) on Brain Volume in Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica)”

Allonna Harker “Preconception Paternal Stress Alters Neuronal Pathways in Developing Offspring” 

Brady Lowry “Combined Effects of Prenatal Stress and Pubertal Exposure of THC on the Behaviour of Adult Long Evans Rats” 


12:20-13:00 —Lunch



Grace Martin  “The Importance of Placental Imaging”

Sarah Lohrenz  “The Use of Western Blot in the Analysis of Protein Expression” 

LeAnna Kalvi  “The Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Sleep Architecture”

Kyle Giebelhaus  “Methods and Technologies for Designing Electrophysiology Hyperdrive Bases”

Scott Wong  “Assays in Optogenetics”

Natalie Wild  “Investigating Synaptic Interactions with Computer Simulation”

Adam Neumann  “Jack of All Trades- Investigating Plasticity Processes in the Brain”

14:00-14:15 —Short Break















Analysis of Immediate Early Gene Detection Methods in Hippocampal Remapping Studies.

Alexis Demecha, Wing Witharana, Michael Eckert, and Bruce McNaughton


Hippocampal place cells encode an animal’s location in the environment. Previous electrophysiology and immediate early gene (IEG) studies have shown that when an animal moves from one environment to another, the ensemble of active place cells change, a phenomenon known as remapping. The current study examined the reliability of using IEGs and catFISH detection methods to observe hippocampal remapping in CA1 and CA3. The results illustrate that hippocampal remapping was not observed. Additionally, variability in IEG detection of both alleles suggests that IEG activation may not be a true indicator of cellular activity.



Trajectory Selection in the Hippocampus

Tyler Forster, Aaron Wilber, Jessica Vos, Bruce McNaughton


Currently, it is known that the hippocampus contains neuron with increased rates of activity in a specific location of the rat’s environment, known as place cells. Furthermore, these cells become activated during sharp wave ripple (SWR) events while the rat is still. SWRs that occur prior to a rat’s movement are known as “preplay,” and have recently been shown to predict novel paths toward a familiar goal in an open environment. We present here our current work and experimental setup for determining whether preplay predicts trajectories to be taken or encodes relative location to a target.



The Role of PKMζ in Precise Spatial Memory

Brody Gordon, Rob McDonald


The PKMζ protein is hypothesized to be involved in the maintenance of long term memory. As the role of PKMζ in hippocampal dependent memories is unclear, the present research investigates the involvement of PKMζ in hippocampal dependent memory.  We utilized a novel spatial radial arm maze task that is demanding on the hippocampus. PKMζ expression can be inhibited by ZIP, which causes the protein to function improperly, or by blocking translation of the protein with siRNA.Following acquisition, either ZIP, siRNA, or their inert controls were infused in both the dorsal and ventral hippocampus and retention was then tested in the task.




Model-Based Reinforcement Learning Analysis of Decision-Making in Rats

Jenn VanOyen, Aaron Gruber


Decision-making is a complex, multi-faceted process which includes internal variables that influence a subject’s choice in a given set of circumstances. We developed a MATLAB application that performs model-based reinforcement learning analysis to tease out these internal aspects of decision-making.  This application uses optimization algorithms and mathematical learning models to predict individual parameters of each subject, such as learning rate and switching propensity. We applied the analysis to data from rats with dorsolateral and dorsomedial striatum lesions doing a competitive matching pennies task and found that these regions appear to be contributing to the computation of different decision-making variables.



Prelimbic Involvement in Optimal Decision Making

Aleigha Arksey, Catherine Laskowski, David Euston


To help people with impairments in decision making, such as problem gamblers, we need a better understanding of how decision making works. The mPFC is implicated in impulse control disorders; therefore during our rodent N-Arm Bandit experiment, where varying levels of food reward and time-out punishment change choice arm locations in the maze over time, we predicted that animals with PL lesions will have difficulty adapting their behavior and will perseverate on sub-optimal choice arms. Based on the preliminary results PL lesioned animals take longer to adjust to the changing contingencies than control animals as predicted.






Peripheral Vision Reaching Task Differentiates Grasp From Reach Component

Lauren A. Hall, Emilyne S. Jankunis, Jenni M. Karl, and Ian Q. Whishaw


The Dual Visuomotor Channel (DVM) theory suggests that reaching for an object consists of two movements, a Reach and a Grasp. This study tested the theory by having right-handed subjects reach for objects using peripheral vision in which the subjects could learn about the object over repeated trials while not directly viewing the object. Subjects displayed a gradual development of a Grasp with practice whereas the accuracy of their Reach did not improve. The finding supports the DVM theory by demonstrating that the Reach and Grasp can be dissociated.



Reaching and Grasping in Gesture-type Hand Movements

Layne A. Lenhart, Jenni M. Karl, and Ian Q. Whishaw

The Motor Language Theory proposes that communication with hand gestures preceded verbal language.  The present study tested the theory by asking whether natural reaching movements resemble the spontaneous hand gestures that frequently accompany speech. Twelve participants were asked to recall three construction tasks involving the movement of three objects each. The results showed that when describing extrinsic, intrinsic, and both intrinsic and extrinsic properties of an objects subjects used gestures that mirrored the actual movements of reaching. The results confirm Motor Language Theory by showing conservation between actual movements and language-related description of movement.



Tracking the Co-development of Language, Motor Development, and Executive Function in Children

Kelly Mills, Claudia Gonzalez


As children age, several areas of cognition rapidly develop. Three areas critical to “everyday function” are language, motor behavior, and executive control. Relationships between (1) language skill and handedness, and (2) gross motor skill and executive functioning, have been demonstrated. We sought to determine the degree of connection between all three developmental areas. Younger (5 & 6 years) and older (9 & 10 years) children completed a battery of assessments related to these areas. Preliminary analysis suggests a significant correlation between right hand use in motor tasks and behavioral regulation components of executive function.



The Parallel Beam Task: A Sensitive Test for Skilled Limb Use

Brian Ficiur, Jamshid Faraji, Gerlinde Metz


Skilled walking provides a sensitive measure of motor function in animal models. Here we developed a new parallel beam task to assess placement of both fore- and hind limbs in rats. We hypothesized that through video recording and analysis, rats with unilateral ischemic lesion of the motor cortex display limb placement deficits. Rats (n=12) were trained to walk across two horizontal beams from a start location to an end location. The ischemic lesion caused significant limb placement deficits mainly contralateral to the lesion. Qualitative movement analysis will be discussed. The findings suggest that the parallel beam task task may be useful in assessing recovery of motor function after brain injury.






The Effect of Developmental Exposure to PCB-126 on American Mink Neocortex

Lauren Williams, Danielle Burger, Andrew Iwaniuk


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic environmental pollutants, but little is known about the effects of PCBs on the brain and behaviour. Here, we tested whether developmental exposure to the most toxic of these chemicals, PCB-126, affected neocortical volume and morphology in the American Mink (Neovison vison). Our analyses indicate a significant decrease in neocortical volume of male mink that were exposed to PCB-126 and a similar trend in females. PCB-126 treated mink also had significantly smaller white matter volumes than controls, but there was no clear effect on neocortical folding.



The Effects of Perfluoroundecanoic Acid (PFUnA) on Brain Volume in Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica)

Janet Poplawski, Danielle Burger, Karen Dean, Andrew Iwaniuk


Thyroxine (T4) plays an important role in the development of the nervous system. Perfluorinated acids (PFAs) are industrial chemicals in the environment that disrupt T4 function and could negatively affect brain development, but this has not been tested. In this study, fertilized Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) eggs were injected with perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnA) with one of three environmentally relevant doses. We found no significant effect of dose on the volumes of the cerebellum, optic tectum and telencephalon in hatchlings. Although this suggests that the brain is resilient to the effects of PFUnA, more detailed neuroanatomical studies are currently in progress.



Preconception Paternal Stress Alters Neuronal Pathways in Developing Offspring

Allonna Harker, Bryan Kolb, Robbin Gibb


Much is known regarding the effects of prenatal stress on developing offspring. However, little investigation has been directed toward the effects of paternal experience on the developing brain. Dendritic morphology and synaptic connectivity of offspring were examined in five different brain areas (AID, CA1, Cg3, PAR1, NAcc) on postnatal day 21 (P21). Analysis revealed significant and diverse findings in cell morphology. Paternal stress offspring revealed alterations in dendritic complexity, length and spine density that were both sex-dependent and region-specific. These findings suggest that paternal stress altered normal development of neuronal pathways in the developing brain.



Combined Effects of Prenatal Stress and Pubertal Exposure of THC on the Behaviour of Adult Long Evans Rats

Brady Lowry, Robin Keeley, Robert McDonald


Marijuana use is increasing in adolescents, highlighting the need to understand the long-term effects on the brain. Research so far has shown mixed effects, with no clear pattern of outcome. Combined with other factors, however, THC could have an effect. Therefore we chose to study the combined effects of prenatal stress and pubertal THC exposure. We used the Morris water task, elevated plus maze and discriminative fear conditioning to context to measure behavioural outcomes. In our experiment, we saw no effect in the females but a small effect in the males. The results of this study are important in contributing to our understanding of THC and whether or not other factors combined with THC give a significant effect.





The Importance of Placental Imaging

Grace Martin, Sorina Truica, Albert Cross, Robbin Gibb


Many pregnancies are complicated by placental abnormalities, which have significant impacts on pre- and post-natal development. As the most important organ of feto-maternal exchange, the placenta acts as a barrier and transporter for nutrients and residues. Fetal growth restriction (FGR) is commonly studied in relation to small and abnormal placentas. The effects of drugs and alcohol on placental size and composition have been analyzed after parturition. However, analysis of the placenta has rarely been studied in vivo. The intent of this work is to use MRI to study placental transport and brain development as a function of drug or alcohol administration in the antenatal period.



The Use of Western Blot in the Analysis of Protein Expression

Sarah Lohrenz, Meili Liu, Gerlinde Metz


The study of neuroscience has rapidly evolved to include molecular approaches, which allows for quantification of behavioural observations in test subjects. One such method is western blot analysis: a rapid and sensitive assay, which combines the resolution of gel electrophoresis and the principles of immunological recognition of an antigen (the protein) by an appropriate antibody. In a rat test subject exposed to stress, expression of proteins can be quantified, allowing for effects at the genetic level to then be deduced. Molecular testing gives researchers concrete data, unparalleled by behavioural means. In combination, the two methods create a holistic body of data, and open doors to progress and innovation in research.



The Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Sleep Architecture

LeAnna Kalvi, Michael Eckert, Masami Tatsuno


Recent evidence from human experiments suggests that electrical stimulation during sleep has the potential to alter endogenous brain activity and enhance performance on memory-related tasks.  In this pilot study, weak transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was administered to two rats during SWS and REM sleep in an attempt to modify sleep architecture.  Preliminary analysis of sleep recordings implies that although many aspects of sleep are robust, it is possible to alter certain sleep features using tDCS.  In particular, results indicate it is easier to manipulate REM sleep than it is to affect SWS via the application of a weak current.




Methods and Technologies for Designing Electrophysiology Hyperdrive Bases

Kyle Giebelhaus, Aaron Gruber


Hyperdrives are multi-electrode arrays used to record field potentials and single unit activity in the brains of several vertebrate species, including the rats and mice used in electrophysiological investigation at CCBN.  The Polaris Group predominantly uses the Matt Wilson hyperdrive, but this design only targets one brain area at a time.  In order to record from multiple areas – such as the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) – the drive base needs to be modified or redesigned.  This presentation outlines the process for using SolidWorks software to redesign a hyperdrive base to target multiple areas of the brain.



Assays in Optogenetics

Scott Wong, Aaron Gruber


Optogenetics is a technique in neuroscience that utilizes light stimulation to affect neural responses. After transfecting specific neuronal populations to express a light-sensitive channelrhodopsin protein, direct light stimulation can then influence neural responses on a millisecond timescale. The Gruber lab is currently using optogenetics to study the role of dopamine in reward processing. My work this summer has been related to developing assays to measure the effectiveness of this stimulation. These include: immunohistochemistry to determine the specificity and expression of channelrhodopsin in cells; self-stimulation behavior by rats; and diolistic labeling to assess spinal morphology changes in response to light stimulation.



Investigating Synaptic Interactions with Computer Simulation

Natalie Wild, Karim Ali, Yimin Nie, Daniela Schwindel, Masami Tatsuno


Due to the complexity of neural dynamics and the technical impossibility of recording from all neurons, understanding how information is processed can be greatly facilitated by modeling the nervous systems.  To investigate the neural mechanisms underlying the cross-correlation data obtained by 25-hour multi-electrode recordings, we simulated a network of 1000 Hodgkin- Huxley neurons.  Although the comparison study is still in the initial phase, the simulation produced similar cross correlation shapes as the experiments. Furthermore, the simulation provided an insight into what rare category cross-correlations, such as a bidirectional inhibitory-inhibitory interaction, may look like.



Jack of All Trades- Investigating Plasticity Processes in the Brain

Adam Neumann, Andrea Gomez Palacio Schjetnan, Artur Luczak

Over the past year of working in the Luczak Lab, I have had the opportunity to participate in four different projects. The first project involved discovering that amphetamine can be used to enhance the reactivation of neural activity patterns. This was published in Neuron. Two other ongoing projects involve looking at these patterns but in the context of optogenetics and VSD. Finally, a project on trans-cranial direct current stimulation in stroke recovery. Methods include; VSD, Optogenetics, Immunohistochemistry, Histochemistry, Cluster Cutting, Electrode Manufacturing, Cell Counting, and Stroke Volume Measuring. Although still ongoing, the analysis of the data from those projects will provide more detailed picture of plasticity processes in the brain.