Tuesday, May 12, 2020

URSP Student Ali Ahmad Investigates the Effects of Lead on Metabotropic Glutamatergic Receptors in the Brain

This semester I conducted research on the effect of lead on metabotropic glutamatergic receptors in the brain. It is widely known that chronic exposure to lead can cause serious neurological damage, potentially causing deficits in cognitive development. The goal of my research was to detail the specific mechanism in which lead affects our brains. Lead targets specific receptors in our brains that control the transmission of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is vital in cognitive development. The specific receptor my project focuses on is the mGluR7a metabotropic glutamatergic receptor. To test the function of this receptor, Xenopus Laevis oocytes were used as a model system.  

The first objective of my project was to build a fully functioning electrophysiology lab where I could conduct the experiment. This involved purchasing and setting up microscopes, displays, a perfusion-vacuum system, and a two-electrode voltage clamp system. A variety of electrophysiology solutions were also made to be used later on. Prior to actual experimentation, I practiced techniques such as injecting the oocytes to help me during the actual experiment. These skills and materials were to be used to begin recording data and measuring the response of these oocytes in the presence of lead. 

However, before any conclusive data was obtained, COVID-19 forced us to stop our work in the lab. Eager to continue my project, I worked with my mentor Dr. Greta Ann Herin, to find a way to continue researching my topic. Dr. Herin provided me with existing data that gave me a look at how lead impairs the function of these receptors in oocytes. This allowed me to reach a conclusion that lead does indeed impair these glutamatergic receptors in a concentration-dependent manner. 

Overall, my URSP experience allowed me to build on a critical skill in the field of research, which is adaptability. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, I was still able to continue my project and present my research. Moving forward I hope to soon be able to get back into the lab and continue the research process.