My experience with INBRE so far has been a lot of learning. My project is looking at the effects of opioids on reflex behavior and sensory thresholds following spinal cord injuries in rats. Most of what I have done so far has been piloting methods for testing reflexes, making harnesses to hold the subjects in place, figuring out the best way to record and score videos, and of course literature review. This process has taught me a lot about the creativity involved in the scientific process. I have read several papers that involve reflex testing in rats, watched videos showing the process, and then read more papers. Still, the tools used are not always clear, and most of these tests have used adult rats while our subjects are rats at postnatal day 5 and 10, so we have had to get creative with the methods.
The specific reflexes I am testing are surface righting, hindlimb placing, and cross-extensor reflexes. Surface righting is shown when a rat is placed on its back and is able to turn back over to an upright position. For hindlimb placing, a metal spatula is placed against the dorsal surface of the hindpaw, and the rat lifts that paw and places it on top of the spatula. For the cross extensor reflex, we gently pinch the hindpaw with flat forceps. The reflex is shown when the pup withdraws the pinched paw and extends the opposite paw. We have had to play around with different tools in order to find the best way to trigger these reflexes. For the surface righting, we had to find a way to hold the pup still on its back before releasing it to record its righting reflex. Holding it with our fingers was not consistent enough from pup to pup and could cause different responses based on how we withdraw our hands, so we settled on using two cotton swabs gently placed against the chest to hold the pup until we are ready to record. This whole process so far has been a lot of trial and error to develop consistent and accurate methods, and has really helped me to think outside the box when it comes to experiments.