McKearn Program – Project Background – Blog 4

The purpose of my research work and project is to better understand how specific parts of the brain contribute to spatial orientation. The members of my lab and I are researching this in order to gain more knowledge on the wandering that is often a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke. Our reasoning is that, if we can better understand which parts of the brain play a role in spatial orientation, then we can better formulate novel therapies and methods for dealing with this wandering symptom as well as these neurological disorders.

To do this type of research, I work with rats. Rats are a great animal model for many reasons, including the fact that they have previously been shown to orient themselves in space by similar means to humans. One article/source that has been essential to my project is “Movement characteristics support a role for dead reckoning in organizing exploratory behavior”, an article published seven years ago in the journal, Animal Cognition. This article is a highly credible source due to its thoroughness, content, and authors. The first author of the article is my mentor, Dr. Douglas Wallace, with whom I have worked now for three years. Because of him and his quality of work, I can personally and professionally attest to the credibility of this source.  🙂

Without this article, I could not analyze the results of my study in the way that I am. The research conducted in the source describes the movements of rats, and documents multiple characteristics of their movements along with ways to calculate and quantify the movement. The article provides evidence that my quantification methods have value, and are based off of previously determined features of rat behavior. The experiments for this source were also conducted under very similar settings, including the same apparatus. Such similarities provide strong parallels and ties between this article and my own work, thereby strengthening my project. Without the information of the article, my project’s methods and measurements would lack a foundation and merit. However, now I can build off of this data for my own study, and apply it to the three groups of rats and their movements. By using the information from this article, I can better assess if there are differences between the three rat groups in my research, which will help me determine if and how the medial frontal and orbitofrontal portions of the prefrontal cortex contribute to spatial orientation, or the lack thereof, which is seen in forms of dementia and stroke.



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