Meet the Researcher - Roland Rodriguez

Breakout Room: 23

Roland_Rodriguez_HeadshotResearcher Name: Roland Rodriguez
Title of Research: Status Dependent Differences in the Acute Stress Induced Neuroinflammation and Degeneration in the Hamster vmPFC
Division Representing: Psychology
Institution: University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Institution Location: Tennessee
Home State: Tennessee
District Number: 2
Advisor/Mentor: Matthew Cooper
Funding Source: NIH 

Research Experience:  
Roland Rodriguez has been an undergraduate assistant to two different graduate students in Dr. Mathew Cooper's stress and behavior lab since his freshman year (currently a final semester senior). In the lab Roland has been responsible for many tasks including: performing cardiac perfusions, slicing extracted brains, quantization of neuronal imagery, creating various chemical mixtures, handling and scoring of animals, quantization of neuronal imagery and much more. Roland has also had volunteer experience with the salvation army, and FISH Hospitality Pantries. Roland has worked several jobs including: Engineer Internship, House Renovation, Canoe Shop Manager, Camp Counselor, and Referee.

Presentation Experience: 
Roland Rodriguez has presented his research at three different distinguished conferences including: Society for Neuroscience Global Connectome Poster Presentation 2021, URSA 2020, and NeuroNet DataBlitz 2020 (won a cash prize for most creative presentation). Roland has also given two major in class presentations: 25 minute presentation on Nootropics; 20 Minute presentation on the Morality of Abortion.

Significance of Research:       
90% of humans experience traumatic stress, however, only 10% develop psychopathologies like PTSD. Social status influences stress reactivity such that social dominance can promote stress resilience, representing an environmental factor that buffers individuals from maladaptive stress responses. Consequences of chronic stress include neuroinflammation, which is associated with neuronal degeneration and oxidative stress. We use a Syrian Hamster social defeat model to investigate status-dependent differences in susceptibility and resiliency to stress. We hypothesized that neuroinflammation mediates susceptibility in status dependent pairs such that dominants show an increased protective neuroinflammatory response compared to subordinates. We paired hamsters for daily social encounters to allow formation of a social hierarchy. After dominance relationships were established, the animals were socially defeated. Next, the animals were tested for stress-related behavior using CD testing and SIT. Brains were then collected and analyzed for markers of neuro -inflammation and -degeneration in the vmPFC. We found dominants were more resistant to stress-induced changes in neuroinflammation compared to subordinates, but still showed increased markers of tissue degeneration similar to subordinates. We also found that while acute defeat stress decreased synaptic density in the vmPFC, there were no status-dependent changes in synaptophysin. After CD testing, we found there was a significant increase in submissive-like behavior among subordinates in comparison to dominants which suggests the neuroinflammatory markers correspond to the alteration in social avoidance behavior, however, the results from SIT were inconclusive. Altogether, this study provides a neurobiological basis for the development of novel pharmacological interventions used to treat traumatic stress exposure.

Uniqueness of Research: 
Understanding neuroanatomical structures and their relative functions is imperative in the search to treat and explain psychopathologies like PTSD. Our research is distinguishable in our exploitation of the Syrian Hamster Dominance Hierarchy, which allows us to better understand and theorize about mechanisms relative to their neuroanatomical structures in relation to stress and stress related behaviors.