Schwartzer Lab
 
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Neuroscience

 

Allergies, Asthma, and the Brain

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Over the past three decades, we have seen parallel increases in the incidence of both allergic asthma and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), raising the question of whether these two conditions are associated. Population-based studies have revealed a link between allergy-associated immune activation during pregnancy and increased risk of having a child later diagnosed with a neurodevelopment disorder. However, these studies only show correlation, not causation.  With all of this in mind, our lab explores maternal allergic asthma (MAA) as a potentially under-examined environmental factor influencing brain and behavior development.

Our lab has developed a model to test the causal link between maternal allergic asthma and offspring brain and behavior development.Using this model, we apply a range of behavioral tasks designed to measure discrete components of social behavior in order to define critical periods during gestation when maternal allergic asthma disrupts neurobehavioral processes.  We then evaluate the role that asthma-related cytokines play in disrupting offspring development.

 

Translational Research

 
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Developmental Effects of E-cigarette Use

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E-cigarettes are advertised as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco smoking, and aggressive marketing campaigns are leading to increased vaping among youth. In fact, vaping is recommended over cigarette smoking for individuals who are pregnant, yet little is known about their safety and toxicity. Compared to traditional cigarettes, E-cigarette juice contains new chemicals and flavorings like propylene glycol and glycerine that have unknown effects on the developing fetus. 

We are currently studying the effects of e-cigarette vaping during pregnancy and measuring cages in the fetus’s development. By using a host of cognitive, emotional, social, and motor behavior tasks, our team is identifying behavioral and neurobiological changes in offspring exposed to various e-cigarette chemicals.

 

Neuroimmunology

 
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Neuro-Immune Brain Connections

The serotonin synapse and the serotonin transporter (SERT) protein. These proteins are found in greater numbers in the brains of mice exposed to elevated maternal cytokines during fetal development.

The immune system plays an important role in healthy brain development and throughout life. Changes in immune system signaling can dramatically alter how the brain cells grow, mature, and connect to one another. A major research focus in the Schwartzer Lab is exploring the intimate relationship between the immune system and nervous system. Much of our work is focused on how immune signals in various regions of the brain contribute to behaviors like depression and hyperactivity. Using multiplex technology, we can analyze dozens of proteins and gene sequences in the brain and link their function to specific behavioral changes.

 

Behavioral Neuroscience

 
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Computer-Guided Tracking

Computer-Driven Social Dyad Tracking

Obtaining efficient, reliable data in certain promising rodent behavior tasks can be very challenging, given the potentially objective nature of scoring these tasks. Faced with the challenges of achieving high quality and replicable data for some of our most exciting behavioral tasks, our lab has begun developing a novel marking system that enables us to differentiate mice of all genotypes through automated social dyad tracking software. Markers are non-toxic, easily applied without the need for restraint, and are available in a variety of colors to identify up to four mice at a time. This identification system enables us to encode a range of complex social behaviors, from social sniffing and approaching, to following and avoidance, using high-throughput and unbiased detections