In the second installment of our Bison Summer Series, women's basketball senior Catherine Romaine discusses her work in the alcohol research field through Bucknell's Department of Neuroscience.
This summer, I am working in Dr. Jennie Stevenson's lab in the Department of Neuroscience. We are studying the relationship between alcohol consumption and oxytocin, a hormone that enhances social bonds and reduces stress.
Our lab researches this relationship in the prairie vole, a small rodent similar to the mouse. The prairie vole makes an ideal candidate for this type of research because it shares three key characteristics with humans: it will voluntarily consume large amounts of alcohol, it bonds with one mate for life (so social bonds are important) and it experiences disruptions of these social bonds after drinking alcohol.
Because oxytocin has been shown to reduce alcohol consumption in prairie voles and other animal models, there is currently considerable excitement in the field of alcohol research regarding the potential of oxytocin to be used to treat alcoholism in humans.
The study I am leading extends this research to consider the role of corticosterone, a hormone which, much like the hormone cortisol in humans, plays a major role in regulating the response to stress. It is used as an indicator of the amount of stress activation in an animal.
Alcohol consumption is known to increase corticosterone release, which has been shown to reinforce more alcohol consumption. However, though alcohol initially elevates corticosterone, chronic alcohol consumption associated with alcohol-use disorder has been shown to dampen the stress response, making it harder for the body to regulate stress and anxiety. My study will help us understand the effects oxytocin has on the corticosterone response to alcohol in prairie voles.
I have been working in Dr. Stevenson's lab for the past three semesters. I discovered this opportunity through a former teammate, Claire Maree O'Bryan, who worked in the lab. I have absolutely loved working with Dr. Stevenson and my lab partners and learning about physiological and social processes that have such an important impact on human health. In addition, the opportunity to learn lab techniques, lead my own studies and publish manuscripts is extremely valuable as I apply to medical schools in the upcoming year.
A Biology major, Romaine has played in 78 career games. She is a three-time member of the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.