Neuropsychopharmacology Lab Advancements

This experiential learning activity takes place in the context of the neuropsychopharmacology lab exercise that is integrated into our new neurobiology laboratory course (BIO 415L). The neurobiology laboratory course offers hands-on, inquiry-based learning in order to provide our students with the opportunity to develop a conceptual understanding of standard experimental methods and research techniques used in neuroscience. In the context of this experiential learning module, students are learning how to assess the behavioral effects of psychoactive drugs (e.g., caffeine) by using state-of-the-art behavioral mouse models. Most importantly, neurobiology students enrolled in BIO415L  learn how to handle laboratory mice, and gain valuable hands-on research experience with numerous behavioral paradigms that screen for different aspects of behavior, including but not limited to: locomotor activity, social behavior, learning and memory, anxiety and depressive-like behavior. Drawing upon their experience during the skill and knowledge-building component of this lab exercise and with continued guidance from the instructor, students apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world research settings. In the context of this experiential learning module, students work effectively in small groups (i.e., 2-4 members) to carry out an independent research project based on any behavioral neuroscience techniques learned during the preceding weeks. Students are be expected to formulate a working hypothesis, and to design and conduct suitable experiments to test their hypothesis. Students are collecting and analyzing their data, writing a full report and presenting their findings to the class at the end of the semester.

The mini-funds will be used to acquire an electronic extension of the behavioral software that is currently use to record and automatically analyze subject behavior in our vivarium facility (Smart Video Tracking Software®, Harvard Apparatus). Specifically, the software extension we propose to purchase is known as “Multiple Arenas Extension” (SmartMA; 76-0686), and allows us to analyze the behavior of numerous subjects simultaneously. Students now have the unique ability to analyze the behavior of 4-8 individual mice at the same time. This is most important as it allows us to incorporate a greater number of behavioral tests in the actual neuropsychopharmacology lab exercise. Thus, the students get the chance to master a wider spectrum of cutting-edge behavioral mouse assays that are widely used in preclinical neuropsychopharmacology, and to capture and analyze their data in a real-life research setting.

The main student learning outcomes associated with this experiential learning activity are as follows: a) to gain experience with a range of behavioral neuroscience research techniques and to learn tools for appropriate data acquisition and analysis; b) to refine and exercise scientific reading and writing communication skills, as well as use of the library; c) and to apply the process of scientific inquiry to address a research question in neuroscience.

This is a most transformative experience that leads to personal, academic and professional growth for our research-oriented students. In the context of this experience students gain the opportunity to refine and exercise scientific reading and writing communication skills, as well as use of the library (to search, find, critically evaluate and analyze relevant literature on a topic), as well as to apply the process of scientific inquiry to address a novel research question in neuroscience. It is noteworthy that the behavioral experimental methods that are used in this laboratory course are widely used in numerous neuroscience laboratories around the globe; therefore, students who are specifically interested in pursuing a professional career in neuroscience greatly benefit from this experience.    

In the context of this experiential learning activity, students gain deep insights into the pathophysiological mechanisms associated with psychiatric diseases that will unequivocally lead to the appreciation of the fullness of human life, including its intellectual, spiritual and emotional dimensions. Importantly, this experiential learning “out-of-class” activity complements the theoretical neuropsychopharmacology concepts presented in our popular neurobiology lecture course (BIO 415). Notably, the conditions needed to ensure that experiential learning is effective have been carefully taken into consideration while developing the proposed activity. Throughout this experiential learning process, neurobiology students can actively be engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative and constructing meaning. Indeed, this experience is structured to require the student to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for their results. Moreover, the instructor and student may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of the experience cannot totally be predicted.

Meaningful reflection on the experience is incorporated before, during and after the actual experiential learning activity. Before the actual neuropsychopharmacology lab exercise students are asked to go over the behavioral protocols and identify critical experimental conditions and outcomes that typically serve as the main indices for the different behaviors (e.g., immobility behavior in the forced swim test serves as an index for depressive-like behavior). During the activity students are asked to conduct the experiment in small groups, and to predict how administration of different psychoactive drugs (e.g., caffeine) will eventually affect subject performance in the different behavioral paradigms. Moreover, students are asked to analyze the data yielded during experimentation; they learn how to use the Smart® behavioral software to analyze the recorded videos, and how to perform a thorough statistical analysis of their data in order to assess how mouse behavior was affected by drug administration. Most importanly, drawing upon their experience during the skill and knowledge-building component of this lab exercise and with continued guidance from the instructor, students work in small groups to carry out the independent project based on any behavioral neuroscience techniques learned during the preceding weeks. Students formulate a working hypothesis, and design and conduct suitable experiments to test their hypothesis. At the end of the semester, and following the completion of the experiential learning activity, students then write a full report and present their findings to the class.

 
Name & Title
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Pothitos M. Pitychoutis

Assistant Professor

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Email: Pothitos M. Pitychoutis

Phone: 937-229-2287

Full-Time Faculty
College of Arts and Sciences: Biology

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