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Gillian Acca

Electric Fish: Light up Solutions for Neurophysiology Rodents, Gender, and PTSD: Student Researcher Travels to Philadelphia

Gillian Acca, a Texas A&M University (TAMU) neuroscience PhD candidate, attended the 10th Annual Meeting of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 23-25, 2016. Her project focused on the activation of memories and how hormone levels increased or decreased this activation by using a rodent model. Gillian's research was of great significance for women’s health research because a majority of research in this topic area is done in males. It will also be influential in the study of PTSD and other anxiety related disorders. Gillian’s co-mentors were Dr. Naomi Nagaya, Research Assistant Professor, and Dr. Stephen Maren, Professor, both within the Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts.

The meeting attracted multidisciplinary researchers to examine gender differences while enhancing communication and collaboration amongst scientists. "During the poster presentation I presented my research and received quality feedback from trainees as well as established scientists,” Gillian said. “OSSD also makes a considerable effort to give trainees attending the conference quality professional development.  I attended a luncheon symposium and met with people in a variety of fields including academic settings, industry, and science writing. As a neuroscience PhD student, I usually attend conferences that are more specific to my discipline, however, OSSD includes many presentations and workshops outside of neuroscience ranging from researchers in basic science to clinical researchers which provides a different perspective.  As I finish up my own research, attending this conference was critical in giving me future direction for my work, introducing me to many leaders in the field, and giving me insight into a large policy shift that affects the science that I do now and plan to do in the future.”

Dr. Naomia Nagaya stated “Women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders in their lifetime. What accounts for this sex difference? One possibility is that sex hormones affect anxiety circuits in female and male brains differently. In female rodents, Gillian has found that changes in sex hormone levels during the reproductive cycle can affect recall of fearful places. A similar scenario in humans could contribute to the high incidence in women of diseases like PTSD, illustrating how studies of animal behavior can be critical to our understanding of chronic mental disorders affecting women’s health.”

Click here to view Gillian's abstract.

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