Student Highlight

Rachel Donahue

G4, Neuroscience


“Exposure to severe or prolonged stress can cause psychiatric illnesses including anxiety and depressive disorders. My work focuses on a peptide called PACAP (pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide), which is activated by stress in anxiety-associated brain areas including the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). The Carlezon lab has shown that PACAP treatment in rats causes persistent anxiogenic responses as reflected by increases in acoustic startle, a measure used in preclinical and clinical studies of anxiety. Recent work in the lab suggests that PACAP may be producing these long-lasting increases in anxiety by altering microRNAs in the BNST.

MicroRNAs are post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression that have been shown to alter synaptic plasticity.  I will be using a combination of viral-mediated gene transfer, which allows us to transfer genes directly into selected areas of the rat brain using engineered viral vectors, behavioral assays including acoustic startle, and electrophysiology to test the hypothesis that PACAP produces persistent anxiety responses by altering microRNA- regulated plasticity in the BNST.  Understanding the mechanisms by which PACAP produces persistent anxiety effects may identify intracellular processes that can be targeted for medication development to treat anxiety disorders."

DMS Student Body

2014-2015 - 655 students


Women: 331 (51%)

Men: 324 (49%)


Underrepresented Minority: 61 (9%)


Domestic: 512 (78%)

International: 143 (22%)


PhD: 600 (92%)

MD-PhD: 55 (8%)


BIG*: 15 (2%)

BBS: 358 (55%)
Immunology: 72 (11%)

Neuroscience: 123 (19%)

SHBT*: 20 (3%)

Virology: 67 (10%)


*These programs became a part of DMS in the Fall 2012. The number of students listed are DMS students only, students that are enrolled before the program became part of DMS are not included.

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