Alex McCoy has been working with Dr. Alan Frazer and Dr. Flavia Carreno to develop novel therapies for the treatment of major depressive disorder. She is a student in the Neuroscience discipline in the Ph.D. in Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.
Recently, she worked on a paper titled “Mechanisms associated with the antidepressant-like effects of L-655,708” which has been published in Neuropsychopharmacology.
We recently chatted with her to speak about this paper.
What was the paper about?
The paper is focused on a drug called L-655,708, or just L6 for short. L6 has shown promise as a novel antidepressant in preclinical studies, and our lab is interested in why it works. The lab has previously published on a neural circuit that appears to be critical for L6’s antidepressant effects, and this paper extends those findings to a cellular/molecular level. So, for this paper, we looked at what L6 does to the physical properties of neurons in said circuit using an electrophysiological approach called whole-cell patch clamp. We also examined which signaling pathways/molecules are necessary for its antidepressant effects. All of this information is important to understanding depression and how to best treat it.
Why was this paper important to you?
This paper is dear to me for a couple of reasons. First, it is the very first publication that I’ve contributed to ever, and finally having something to show for my hard work is a glorious feeling. I am incredibly proud of myself and my lab and our collaborators for our combined efforts. This is also research that I personally feel is very important. I have long been an advocate for fighting against the stigma of mental health issues, particularly depression. And now as a researcher who studies antidepressants, I can offer not only my support, but my expertise, to help make lives better for people who are struggling with depression. It is incredibly gratifying work.
What are you up to now and what’s next for your research?
I will be starting my dissertation work which will also focus on L6 but come at it from a slightly different angle. My project is centered around reward and pleasure, which is compromised in depression, and I want to see if L6 can restore the compromised reward functionality in the brain. To do this, I’m going to use a technique called intracranial self-stimulation or ICSS. This type of brain stimulation produces an intensely pleasurable sensation and can be used in preclinical studies as a readout for reward system functionality. I am interested to see if L6 has effects on reward systems in the brain and how this might contribute to its antidepressant effects.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I ran into so many obstacles while trying to complete my work for this paper. Plenty of long days in the lab, failed experiments, and a lot of doubt. I could not have done it without the help of my mentors and peers. If it takes a whole village to raise one child, it takes a whole department to raise one grad student!