Fiber Photometry to Assess Neural Activity in Awake and Behaving Animals

Project Title: Fiber Photometry to Assess Neural Activity in Awake and Behaving Animals

Project Lead's Name: Matthew McMurray

Project Lead's Email:

Project Lead's Phone: 513-529-2415

Project Lead's Division: CAS

Primary Department: Psychology

Other Team Members and their emails:

  • Anna Radke,
  • Jennifer Quinn,

List Departments Benefiting or Affected by this proposal:

  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry

Estimated Number of Under-Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 60

Estimated Number of Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 4

Describe the problem you are attempting to solve and your approach for solving that problem: Advanced Biopsychology (PSY 351) is a laboratory-based course, essential to the Psychology Major, Neuroscience Co-Major, and Minor, and commonly taken by pre-health students from a wide variety of majors. One of the key learning outcomes in this course is the comprehension of the relationship between behavior and neural activity in the brain. This concept forms the basis of all behavioral neuroscience and is thus essential to success in the neuroscience curriculum. However, this topic is also incredibly challenging to teach through experiential learning, since concrete demonstrations of it rely on a highly advanced method, called electrophysiology.

Electrophysiology requires specialized equipment and technical knowledge, beyond the reach of most undergraduates at the 300 level. Since PSY 351 relies on experiential learning, these equipment and knowledge barriers have thus also become significant barriers to student learning. Without the concrete experiences this method provides, students are asked to simply take their instructors' word for it, which is clearly a less meaningful outcome. These barriers make students of neuroscience less prepared for their advanced courses, because their depth of understanding of this essential concept is suboptimal. This application seeks to solve this problem via adoption of an innovative new teaching/research method.

In the last two years, new technology has emerged that has dramatically simplified the assessment of neural activity in awake, behaving animals. This new technology, called Fiber Photometry, circumvents the knowledge barriers that exist for traditional electrophysiology methods, making it potentially useful in an undergraduate experiential learning setting like PSY 351, as well as a wide variety of neuroscience research settings. In brief, Fiber Photometry works by introducing a special 'dye' into the brain of an animal. This dye emits fluorescent light when neural activity occurs. By implanting a minuscule fiber-optic cable into a brain region, we can then measure the activity of that region by simply measuring its luminance. Brighter periods of time would indicate periods of greater neural activity. Thus, instead of using complex electrophysiological measures, this substantially simpler method easily illustrates the relationship between brain activity and behavior. Therefore, in this Tech Fee proposal, we have requested funds to acquire a Fiber Photometry system at Miami.

Dr. McMurray is currently the only faculty member at Miami with direct experience measuring neural activity in awake and behaving animals (he does so with electrophysiology). Given Dr. McMurray's expertise in these methods, he will oversee installation and data collection of the Fiber Photometry system, and develop standardized protocols for use in teaching and research. If further support is needed, Dr. McMurray's current research collaborators (Dr. Mitch Roitman at UIC and Dr. Tom Kash at UNC) will provide assistance. Both of their labs already use these methods routinely, and both are willing to assist us if needed.

The Fiber Photometry system would be physically housed in Dr. McMurray's laboratory. However, it is sturdy and small enough to be easily transported to other locations for teaching and research purposes. Dr. McMurray would be responsible for maintaining the system, but each user would be required to supply their own consumables, which are very affordable. He will personally train all users and will conduct the first pilot use of this technology in his teaching.

How would you describe the innovation and/or the significance of your project: Simply stated, Fiber Photometry is likely one of the most innovative advancements in neuroscience methods in the last 25 years. Not only will it allow for simplified assessment of neural activity (as discussed above), but with some easy modifications (that are essentially free), it can also be used to assess the activity of individual proteins and genes in awake and behaving animals, greatly enhancing its impact and usefulness. Given its newness, it is currently used by only a handful of labs in the country, primarily at premier research institutions such as Stanford and Harvard. We know of no universities using it in a teaching environment. Thus, the acquisition of a Fiber Photometry system at Miami would not only provide an innovative solution to our teaching problem but would also allow for research programs at Miami to conduct more innovative research that is competitive with investigators at these elite institutions.

The significance of our application thus stems not from the number of students impacted, but rather from the depth of its impact on both teaching and research at Miami.

Teaching: The use of Fiber Photometry in neuroscience classrooms will provide a one-of-a-kind learning experience for students at Miami. This method simply and accurately illustrates the nature of the brain­ behavior relationship, preparing our students for deeper engagement with the literature and for greater success in their advanced courses and post-graduate training. Additionally, as this cutting-edge method becomes more commonly used in research, our students will enter the workforce (or the next stage of their academic training) already experienced in its use. Such skills will make them highly competitive applicants for these sought-after positions.

The students most affected by this new resource include those enrolled in PSY 351 (20 enrolled per section), PSY 456 (Advanced Biological Bases of Behavior, 30 enrolled per section), and possibly PSY 410 (Capstone in Neuroscience, 30 enrolled per section), but also those enrolled in independent studies and the Psychology Department's three-semester research program called Broadening Undergraduate Research Participation in Behavioral Neuroscience (BURP-BN). In BURP-BN, 20 juniors and seniors a year (from across all University majors) design their own neuroscience research projects, apply for funding for those projects, achieve animal use permission, collect and analyze their data, and present their findings at 2 conferences. Given the rapid pace of this program, students must set simple and achievable research goals. By simplifying the data collection process, Fiber Photometry would allow students in these courses/programs to conduct more theoretically complex research using feasible methods. This would enhance the resulting research outcomes, but also learning outcomes across all neuroscience courses.

Research: The integration of a Fiber Photometry system into our research programs would give student researchers experience with one of the most cutting-edge methods in neuroscience, increasing the impact of the research they conduct, and therefore increasing their competitiveness for graduate and medical schools. Fiber Photometry will allow students to ask advanced questions about the brain-behavior relationship that were previously restricted to senior graduate students, since older methods were typically too technical or time-consuming for undergraduates and even junior graduate students. The use of Fiber Photometry will, therefore, allow our students to produce higher impact publications in a shorter timeframe, and keep our students competitive with those from other premier institutions.

In addition to improving trainee outcomes, the acquisition of a Fiber Photometry system would substantially increase the impact of neuroscience research conducted at Miami, improving our ability to attract significant external funding (e.g. grants) and high-quality applicants to our doctoral programs. Three labs in the Psychology Department alone have ongoing research projects that would immediately benefit from Fiber Photometry: Dr. McMurray's, Dr. Radke's, and Dr. Quinn's. Collectively, these labs are training 6 doctoral/master's students and 25 undergraduate research assistants this year. Thus, the number of students whose research would be impacted is high. As the method becomes more prolific across the discipline, other investigators at Miami will have access to this equipment as well, further enhancing the number of students affected and the research they produce.

How will you assess the success of the project: The success of this project will be determined by its effect on learning and research outcomes:

To assess its impact on learning outcomes, only 1 section of PSY 351 will implement it at first. The performance of students in this section will be compared to those in other sections of PSY 351.

Additionally, the success of these students will be tracked as they progress through their more advanced courses (PSY 356,410, 451, 456, etc), and performance again compared. Thus, we will assess the immediate impact of this new method on learning outcomes, but also the long-term impact of it in the more challenging courses. Lastly, student perception of learning will be assessed by adding additional questions to student course evaluations, with results again compared across sections. After one year, if student learning outcomes and perceptions are positive, Fiber Photometry will be used in all sections of PSY 351. Regardless of the outcome, the results of this experience will be presented at a national conference, such as the Lilly Conference and/or the Society for Neuroscience Conference, helping guide other instructors in the field and demonstrating Miami's commitment to cutting-edge teaching.

To assess the project's impact on research, students and faculty using this equipment will be required to report any presentations (poster or oral), publications, or other research outcomes (grants, etc) that use the Fiber Photometry system. The number and quality (if obtainable) of these outcomes will be collected to demonstrate the frequency of use and impact of the method on our research programs. Additionally, users will be required to report the number of undergraduate and graduate users, so that an approximate number of trainees impacted by this tool can be assessed.

Financial Information

Total Amount Requested: $25,000

Is this a multi-year request: No

Please address how, if at all, this project aligns with University, Divisional, Departmental or Center strategic goals: This proposal is aligned with University, Divisional, and Departmental goals, in that it truly promotes both academic and scholarly excellence by bringing one of the most innovative research methods in neuroscience to bear on these priorities. By involving Fiber Photometry In the classroom, Miami can position itself as a leader in neuroscience teaching. By gaining research access to this tool, Miami will allow deeper involvement of undergraduates in neuroscience research, promote higher impact research across the neurosciences, and increase the likelihood of attracting external support for research. Additionally, bringing Fiber Photometry to Miami will have effects on the University's Health and Well being initiatives by improving our understanding of the biological basis of mental health disorders (through the research of Drs. McMurray, Radke, and Quinn).