Showcase 2023: Student Scientists Tackle Brain Chemistry, Poliovirus

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 28, 2023) — In her first semester at the University at Albany, Vanessa NyBlom met Professor of Psychology James Stellar during her Introduction to Psychology class.

NyBlom has been fascinated with behavioral neuroscience and brain activity during sleep and dreaming, and the meeting gave her with valuable connection as she worked on a research paper covering the brain areas involved in lucid dreaming.

Before her first semester was complete, NyBlom was provided an even greater opportunity: Stellar invited her to do a directed study in his lab during the second semester, on cognitive-emotional integration in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Now only a sophomore, NyBlom will present her research at UAlbany’s inaugural Showcase Day on Thursday, April 27.

a logo for the UAlbany Showcase for Thursday April 27, 2023

“Our project is writing two blogs: one with a focus on the positive (reward, pleasure) side and a second with similar story of cortical-limbic interactions but on the negative (fear, anxiety) side. In the two cases the prefrontal cortex interacts with either the ventral tegmental area or with the amygdala area of the brain,” said NyBlom, who is pursuing a double major in psychology and human biology and a minor in neuroscience. “These two systems (fear/pleasure) could be the basic guardrails for cognitive decision-making with emotional input."

To explain this further, NyBlom and Stellar introduce a glutamate projection from the PFC to both the VTA and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) — which shows the process behind what is going on in one’s brain when they are introduced with a specific emotional stimulus.

"We explain how each of the specific brain areas effects the next, and how their relationships give way to the reward/motivation effects that the PFC allows," said NyBlom. "Because of these pathways and area activations, the human brain carries out the psychological feeling of motivation, incentive behavior, fear, learning behavior, and so on."

UAlbany Showcase 2023: Vanessa Nyblom

Stellar’s lab, the Center for Neuroscience and Experiential Education, is interested in the neuroscience of why experiential education is so powerful in shaping college students plans about their future.

“We believe it’s about how the thinking brain — which forms plans for a major and a career— interacts with the feeling brain, which gives a gut reaction to relevant experiences such as an internship,” Stellar said. “To do that, Vanessa has explored in mammals the neural connections between these brain regions, and it has been a pleasure working with her. We think that such having connections ultimately helps build the beginning of a professional maturity in all students that furthers career success.”

Showcase Day will bring together the entire University community to highlight the academic excellence of UAlbany students, as exemplified through their research, scholarship, creative activities and experiential learning.

This day-long event unites UAlbany's existing student showcases and conferences, expanding to all schools and colleges with students across all disciplines presenting their work. The showcase will include:

  • Poster presentations
  • Research talks
  • Art exhibitions
  • Student performances

Matt Long, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major will also present his research at Showcase Day. Long has been working with Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Gabriele Fuchs in the RNA Institute, analyzing ribosome reactions in response to poliovirus infection.

“Although it’s been known that ribosome acetylation occurs during infection, the impact these post-translational modifications have on protein biosynthesis are currently unclear,” said Long. “We wanted to test if the inhibition of ribosome acetylation affects poliovirus when cells have been treated with an inhibitor.”

UAlbany Showcase 2023: Matt Long

Long’s experiment involved introducing an inhibitor for lysine acetyltransferases KAT3A/B for cells infected with poliovirus, and then observing the plaque assays, where plaque sizes and plaque numbers could be measured to quantify their response to infection.

“Having been granted the opportunity to take part in this research as a part of my experiential learning at the university has benefited me immensely,” said Long. “It has allowed me to grow my network or connections and feel prepared to step into the world with prior experience in the science industry.”

Showcase Day is an academic, classroom-free day, and students who are not presenting will be attending or volunteering at events, and in some cases fulfilling assignments for their regularly scheduled classes. Faculty and staff, as well as prospective students, donors, sponsors, legislators, community leaders and institutional partners, are also invited to attend.

Events will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. around the Academic Podium, including the Lecture Center Concourse, the University Art Museum, Performing Arts Center and University Library, as well as in the Campus Center and ETEC.