Dopamine and Depression


Ph.D. student Mary Regis Shanley (Biology) was awarded a 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, a prestigious grant that recognizes the potential for making significant contributions to research, teaching, and innovations in science.
The fellowship provides $34,000 a year for three years, along with a tuition allowance of $12,000 a year. Notable prior recipients include Google founder Sergey Brin, Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt, and 42 Nobel Prize winners, such as former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Shanley studies neuroscience. Her research uses a mouse model of social stress to explore the brain circuitry involved in depression and anxiety. She is investigating how the dopamine system in the brain reacts to social stress, and whether males and females react differently.
“Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men, and we’re not really sure why,” Shanley said. “One possibility is that men and women respond to stress differently.”
Her model measures behaviors such as social interaction, or the preference for sugar water over plain water. The dopamine system is involved in the regulation of these behaviors, and changes in the activity of the neurons that release dopamine might be responsible for the development of mood disorders like depression, she said.
Shanley is conducting her research in the lab of Professor Allyson K. Friedman (Hunter, Biology). “This fellowship is a prestigious and well-earned career milestone,” Friedman said. “Beyond academic excellence, [Mary] Regis brings a deep curiosity, ingenuity and creativity to our research here at Hunter College. I am confident this fellowship is a first step in her promising career as an independent researcher.”
One focus of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is “Broader Impacts,” or how the fellowship will allow Shanley to contribute to her community, which aligns with her educational goals. “One of the main reasons I chose to pursue my Ph.D. at CUNY was because of the program’s involvement with the community and focus on underrepresented minorities,” said Shanley. “I am expanding our laboratory’s involvement in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute High School Scholars program, which matches high school students interested in science with labs to perform a summer research project.”
Shanley notes that almost every lab at CUNY stays involved with its community, through mentorships and teaching. “These outreach programs are not just résumé builders, they’re genuinely fun,” she said. “To me, that’s what makes the CUNY system special: the focus is split equally between doing great science and passing knowledge on to the next generation of researchers.”

Submitted on: MAY 16, 2018

Category: Biology | General GC News | Student News