Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Phoenix Davis

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Winter 2022

Research Project: Decoding Neural Circuit Interactions between Stress and Binge Eating

Project Description: Binge eating disorder is a debilitating disease which can arise from many kinds of traumas, pains, and stresses of life. Previous characterization of a binge-eating model developed by our lab shows that mice will consume greater quantities of high palatable diet (HPD) following exposure to specific types of psychological stressors including forced swim and foot shock compared to mice exposed to such psychological stressors. It was found that the claustrum of the brain had increased neural activity following bouts of binge-eating. One aspect of my research required me to quantify the density of neural activation in the claustrum from its most rostral to caudal area. We found that stressed mice displayed significantly higher levels of claustrum neural activation compared to controls. For the behavioral pattern we wanted to rule out influence of energy expenditure in the stress paradigm. Mice were given access to running wheels for an hour and then received access to HPD. Mice who displayed high levels of running had similar food intake to that of mice who did not display running activity. This suggests that psychological stress is an underlying component in this model for stress eating. As an ongoing project we are utilizing 1-photon imaging in the claustrum to monitor single cell activity across no stress vs. stress sessions and subsequent feeding behavior. We have thus far found increased neural activity in response to onset of a feeding bout in no stress conditions and we are investigating how stress modulates the effect of neurons tracked across time. This research potentially has great impact on the scientific community’s knowledge behind why psychological stressors contribute to binge-eating behaviors and could one day have astounding translational benefits for treating humans with binge-eating disorder.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

Throughout the project, I have learned how to the importance of consistency and dedication. Most scientific work isn’t short burst of miraculous discoveries, but rather many consistent applications of the scientific process. Some days my worked seemed insignificant, but over time I was able to finish numerous, substantial projects. Doing little things with consistency can have a large impact.

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Challenge yourself! Never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Almost everything I have come to love and enjoy started with a leap of faith. The worst that can happen is you find out you’re not interested in the activity, community, class, etc. Even small acts of bravery can lead to outstanding outcomes.