Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences

Document Type



Social defeat is a powerful experience leading to drastic changes in physiology and behavior, many of which are negative. For example, repeated social defeat in vertebrates results in reduced reproductive success, sickness, and behavioral abnormalities that threaten individual survival and species persistence. However, little is known about what neural mechanisms are involved in determining whether an individual is resilient or susceptible to repeated social defeat stress. I used a resident-intruder experiment in the African cichlid fish, Astatotilapia burtoni, to create and investigate the behavior and neural correlates of these two opposing groups. Resilient fish used both searching and freezing behaviors during a social defeat encounter with a new resident after previously experiencing social defeat, while susceptible fish predominantly used freezing behaviors. By quantifying neural activation using phosphor- S6 ribosomal protein (pS6) in socially relevant brain regions, I identified differential neural activation patterns associated with resilient and susceptible fish and found nuclei that co-varied and may represent functional networks. I also have preliminary transcriptome data that identified important candidate genes such as kcnc4, foxa1, and zfpm1 that were upregulated and trhra, matn3b, and avp that were downregulated in the hippocampus and hypothalamus of susceptible fish. These data provide the first evidence of specific conserved brain networks underlying social stress resilience and susceptibility in fishes as well as the first evidence of specific conserved transcriptomes underlying social stress resilience and susceptibility in fishes. The unique language of comics has the potential to portray abstract scientific concepts more easily than just words. Here I also report results from an assessment of how a science comic can affect student learning and attitudes towards engaging with science, compared to more traditional written texts, a journal article and popular science summary. I used a pre- and post- reading questionnaire to measure learning gain viii and attitudes towards science engagement. Students who read the comic have the highest mean learning gain, statistically equivalent to a journal publication, and see the most positive changes in attitude towards engagement with science, suggesting that science comics could be a highly effective form of communication and outreach among the public.



Committee Chair

Gleason, Evanna