SMITHFIELD, RI – Kristin Scaplen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bryant University and Faculty Fellow of Bryant’s Center for Health and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS), has secured a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Rhode Island IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (RI-INBRE). The award, which was granted through the Early Career Development (ECD) program, allows Professor Scaplen to continue her research to understand how the brain, or circuits within the brain, encode rewarding memories and direct motivated behaviors.
“The funds will not only support her work, but will also support students working and learning in her lab, bringing an exciting element to Bryant’s academic and research programming.”
“We are fortunate to have Dr. Scaplen bring her exceptional scholarship to Bryant’s Psychology department and the Center for Health and Behavioral Sciences,” says Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Bryant and Deputy Director of the Center for Health and Behavioral Sciences. “The funds will not only support her work, but will also support students working and learning in her lab, bringing an exciting element to Bryant’s academic and research programming.”
According to Professor Scaplen, “In the lab, you aren’t just gaining knowledge, you’re creating knowledge for others to learn. I am thrilled to bring my research program to Bryant and engage undergraduates in the research experience.”
Using fruit flies to study brain circuits
Professor Scaplen, who will use the funds to study the persistence of memory in the context of alcohol use, often uses the fruit fly to study the circuits in the brain. “Despite over 550 million years of divergent evolution, the basic mechanisms mediating reward across species are remarkably similar,” says Scaplen. “This suggests that there are some universal circuitry principles for encoding rewarding memories. My goal is to understand these circuitry principles.”
In her research, Scaplen uses special tools to manipulate, visualize, and record the activity of individual neurons. She plans to further use those tools to identify how circuits react to drugs of abuse, like alcohol.
Continuing her “revolutionary” research
The RI-INBRE-supported research will build upon Scaplen’s latest project, where she led a team of researchers to map projections from mushroom bodies (pair of structures important for memory in the brain of insects). Their paper, "Transsynaptic mapping of Drosophila mushroom body output neurons,” a collaboration among Bryant University, Brown University, the Rockefeller University, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was published in eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd in February.
Their research provided insight into general circuit principles for how information is processed to form memories and update them in complex brains. The researchers used trans-Tango, a brain network mapping technique recently developed at Brown University, where Scaplen was a Postdoctoral Research Associate for six years. Through trans-Tango, the team found that mushroom body circuits are highly interconnected.
“This study will impact models of learning, memory, and behavior output."
According to one reviewer, “This paper is revolutionary. I can see how this work can directly impact a larger body of research on arthropod brains and behavior,” he continued. “This study will impact models of learning, memory, and behavior output,” said another reviewer.
Read the full research article here: https://elifesciences.org/articles/63379#s2.
About Bryant University
For 158 years, Bryant University has been at the forefront of delivering an exceptional education that anticipates the future and prepares students to be innovative leaders of character in a changing world. Located on a contemporary campus in Smithfield, R.I., Bryant enrolls approximately 3800 undergraduate students from 38 states and 49 countries. Bryant is recognized as a leader in international education and regularly receives top rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Money, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wall Street Journal, College Factual, and Barron's. Visit https://www.bryant.edu/.