I am currently working on how the brain wires itself early in development. Early in development there are relatively small amounts of neurons. These neurons are guided by chemical cues in their environment to find their correct targets in the brain. If the brain mis-wires itself, many psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy can occur. I work with a line of cells called rat embryonic hypothalamic cells that contain a novel G protein- coupled receptor known as the Neurokinin 3 Receptor (NK3R). By applying an agonist, senktide, we witness significant fillipodial outgrowth suggesting that the NK3R may play a role in early brain development.
In Dr. Flynn’s lab, I am studying the tachykinin GPCR Neurokinin 3 receptor found on vasopressin neurons in the SON and the PVN of the hypothalamus. Injections of NK3R agonists, as well as hyperosmolarity and hypovolemia, stimulate VP release into circulation. Neurokinin B is the endogenous ligand for NK3R and has high binding affinity, yet from what we’ve observed there is sparse innervation of NKB onto the somas of NK3R/VP neurons. Contrarily, we’ve found dense innervation of another tachykinin ligand, substance P. We are interested in the innervation of NKB and SP terminals onto VP somas and dendrites, to ask the question of how NK3R gets activated.