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Thao Nguyen, ABmR Poster Award for Scientific Methodology

The ABmR Poster Award for scientific methodology went to Thao Nguyen for his research on designer receptor expression in alcohol withdrawal neural pathways.

In alcohol addiction, the inability to control drinking has severe negative effects on both health and social life. Understanding the neural mechanism of alcohol withdrawal can establish the foundation of developing abstinence therapies. Thao’s project focuses on identifying specific molecules involved in this pathway with the goal of learning how these molecules affect alcohol consumption.

To examine the neural mechanism of alcohol withdrawal in humans, Thao began by injecting a virus into the brains of mice. This particular virus delivers a gene into neurons that encodes for a receptor believed to be found within the alcohol withdrawal pathway. To test this, Thao put these new receptor-expressing mice and control mice (mice without virus injection) in an environment with access to alcohol. After the experiment, the mice's brains were surgically removed, sectioned, and stained with a technique called immunohistochemistry. This technique can label specific receptors in the brain slice with colored tags. The slice can then be imaged using fluorescent microscopy.

The team found that the alcohol consumption of experimental mice was increased compared to control mice. In humans, the receptor examined in the study is found on the surface of specific nerve cells. The findings of this study imply that having this receptor in excess may lead to an inability to stop drinking. By identifying this receptor as being involved in an increase in alcohol consumption, specific therapies that target this pathway can potentially be developed.

“This summer”, Thao said, “I learned what it meant to be a scientist. It was truly a unique experience that I could not have received anywhere else.“ Working in a lab helped him make the decision to continue with science. During the award ceremony, Thao said “I had so much fun over the summer working in this lab. Even though the lab is small, it makes me feel at home. It changes my whole perspective of what research is supposed to be and how it can help people and I will keep this in my heart for a long time.”

We would like to thank the ABmR community for contributing to this award. We believe that by supporting young scientists and exposing them to the top research labs, we can help champion all that science is.

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