Exercise and Brain Health
Evidence suggests that exercise can improve behavioral performance in humans and rodent animal models. One of the major changes in the brain that results from chronic aerobic exercise in rodents is increased number of new nerve cells and subsequent growth of the granular layer of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus. The goal of this project is to identify genotypes of mice that display large increases in exercise-induced neurogenesis and behavioral outcomes, and other genotypes that display smaller responses, and test the hypothesis that new neurons are required for pro-cognitive effects of exercise on hippocampal-dependent tasks.
Neurogenesis and Optogenetics
Despite decades of intense research since the discovery that new neurons are continuously generated in the adult mammalian brain, their function remains a mystery. Determining the role of neurogenesis in the healthy and diseased brain has broad implications for our understanding of learning, memory, behavior, and regenerative medicine. We are taking advantage of recent advances in optogenetic technology to design tools for studying new neurons in vivo. By combining optogenetics (which uses light to control genetically modified cells) with our lab’s expertise in behavior, we are making progress towards solving one of the biggest mysteries in neuroscience.
Fetal Alcohol and Cognition
Developmental alcohol exposure in humans can result in a wide range of deficits collectively referred to as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD-related impairments in cognition and learning persist into adulthood and are accompanied by structural changes in the hippocampus. In rodent models of FASD, neonatal alcohol exposure reduces the survival of newly generated hippocampal neurons when measured in adulthood and also impairs hippocampal-dependent behavior. Aerobic exercise has been shown to both increase levels of adult neurogenesis and to also enhance behavioral performance.
Nutritional Influences on Brain and Physiology
The Rhodes lab houses the Mouse Cognition Core Facility for the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory. The Core Facility was created to understand how nutrition can optimize brain health across the lifespan along with finding cognitive and behavioral paradigms that will elucidate the effect various nutritional compounds and supplements may have on the brain and behavior. The facility collaborates with both University of Illinois scientists as well as scientists from Abbott Nutrition. Additionally, our lab is also interested in how products of metabolism signal the brain to influence behavioral outcomes such as physical activity, cognitive performance, and food intake.
Mouse Model for ADHD
One powerful method for studying the evolution of behavior is to carry out a replicated, long term selective breeding experiment. We have developed a method, using sophisticated video tracking software from CleverSysems Inc., to measure physical activity in home cages 24 hours a day 7 days a week in hundreds of mice each generation. We are currently breeding lines of mice for high levels of cage activity while maintaining other un-selected lines to serve as controls. The goal is to identify how genes influence behavior at multiple levels of biological organization from the genes to development and function of a nervous system.
Last Modified: June 5th, 2017
Designed by T.K. Bhattacharya and Petra Majdak
Curated by: Anastassia Sorokina
The Rhodes' Laboratory