I graduated from Dalhousie University with a Ph.D. in neuroscience in August of 2017, and shortly thereafter joined the O’Connell lab as a postdoctoral associate. I am interested in studying 'top-down' mechanisms regulating the development and maintenance of diet induced obesity (DIO). Appetitive circuits in the central nervous system are changed by nutritional experience and DIO. Thus, treatment strategies that aim to control appetite and decrease body weight must target these circuits. The O’Connell lab focuses on AgRP neurons in the hypothalamus and the impact that DIO has on their excitability, plasticity, and regulation of gene expression. By pairing advanced electrophysiological techniques, coupled with 'omics’, computational analyses, biochemical, and behavioral techniques we are able to probe the hypothalamus and further characterize the neuronal populations responsible for regulating appetite. Ultimately, we aim to identify novel therapeutic targets underlying development and maintenance of diet-induced obesity.
Dalhousie University Ph.D.,
Neuroscience Advisor: Dr. Tara Perrot and Ian Weaver
Dalhousie University M.Sc.,
Neuroscience Advisor: Dr. Tara Perrot
University of Nebraska at Omaha B.A.,
Psychology, minor Biology
Paternal preconception risk factors (e.g. stress, diet, drug use) correlate with metabolic dysfunction in offspring, which is often comorbid with depressive and anxiety-like phenotypes. Detection of these risk factors or deleterious phenotypes informs a female about prevailing ecological demands, in addition to potential adverse environment-induced phenotypes that may be disseminated to her offspring. We examined whether a F0 male rat's prior exposure to an obesogenic high-fat diet (HFD) influences a female's attraction towards a male, subsequent mother-infant interactions and the development of defensive (emotional) responses in the F1 offspring. Females displayed less interest in the HFD exposed F0 males relative to control diet-exposed F0 males. Dams that reared F1 offspring in larger, semi-naturalistic housing provided more licking and grooming and active arched-back-nursing behavior. However, some of these effects interacted with paternal experience. F0 HFD and maternal rearing environment revealed sex-dependent, between group differences in F1 offspring wean weight, juvenile social interactions and anxiety-like behavior in adolescence. Our results show for the first time in mammals that male exposure to HFD may contribute to stable behavioral variation among females in courtship, maternal care, even when the females are not directly exposed to a HFD, and anxiety-like behavior in F1 offspring. Furthermore, when offspring were exposed to a predatory threat, hypothalamic Crf gene regulation was influenced by early housing. These results, together with our previous findings, suggest that paternal experience and maternal rearing conditions can influence maternal behavior and development of defensive responses of offspring.