My name is Linyuan (Carol) Shi. I am a second year Master of Science in Psychological Science (MSPS) student who will soon become a PhD student working with Dr. Joshua Gulley. I recently finished a project that is a collaboration with Dr. Nu-Chu Liang’s lab on the effects of concurrent use of alcohol and THC—the main active component in cannabis— on the neuronal plasticity of the medial prefrontal cortex in the adolescent rat. We hope that the results will uncover the effects of concurrent drug use that may increase vulnerability to drug addiction in adolescents who misuse these drugs. In my PhD study, I plan to continue investigating the circuit changes brought on by adolescent drug use and to devise behavioral paradigms in rats that will shed light on the mechanisms underlying drug addiction.
I discovered my passion for animal behavior and psychopharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, where I worked as a research and teaching assistant. To continue my training, I applied to the MSPS program to work with Dr. Gulley who kindly offered me opportunities to learn the operant conditioning paradigm and invited me to lead a project funded by NIH on the effects of co-using alcohol and THC. Given the alignment of our interests and the vast opportunities to grow as a researcher, I decided to join the lab.
In my first year, I participated in an operant conditioning experiment led by Lauren Carrica – a PhD student in our lab – to test the working memory of adolescent rats after co-exposure to alcohol and THC. Meanwhile, I began to plan my own project to address the question, how do alcohol and cannabis affect neural responses during the critical developmental period of adolescence, especially when these drugs are used simultaneously? To carry out the study, I learned subcutaneous injection skills and injected adolescent rats with THC for a portion of their adolescence. Some of the rats were also allowed to voluntarily drink ethanol following their daily THC injection. When the rats reached adulthood and had been drug abstinent for many weeks, I performed brain slice electrophysiology to record the activity of neurons before and after stimulation-induced plasticity. Our results suggest that THC and alcohol co-exposure induce a long-lasting disruption of the brain’s ability to adjust to environmental changes in a manner that is unique from the effects of either drug alone.
I am honored to receive the Graduate Student Award for Excellence in Psychological Science in recognition of my success, which can be attributed to several aspects of the program. First, Dr. Gulley gave me the autonomy to challenge myself and develop essential research skills. I was able to learn and practice in vitro field potential recording with remote teaching and guidance in only four months. Second, I demonstrated my leadership when I taught undergraduate research assistants to perform subcutaneous injections and coordinated a team of seven students, making it possible to collect data from 64 rats last year. Third, I selected coursework that supported my research goals, including courses in statistical methods, programming in R, and neuroimaging methods. Finally, I took advantage of the writing support offered by the department, Dr. Gulley, and my peers in the MSPS cohort to write a manuscript as the first author and present our findings at Brownbag and the MSPS Research Fair.
I have relished the past two years working with Dr. Gulley and the members of his lab! I am excited about our future collaborations and the possibility of making additional contributions to the field of neuropsychopharmacology. I plan to continue to challenge myself, investigate unsolved questions regarding adolescents’ vulnerability to drug use and abuse using rat models, and create tools that may benefit the field and future generations of scientists.