Mentor: Tonya Train
Project title: Effect of oxytocin on immune cell function
The beginning of this semester focused on determining whether I should conclude my project by working with breast cancer cells or returning my focus to immune cells. Further research using the Hs578T breast cancer cells involved treating the cells with LiquidTrust. LiquidTrust is oxytocin that is sold online and publicly advertised. It is not regulated by the FDA and the side effects have not yet been determined. Results from these experiments showed no change in intracellular signaling after treatment, indicating that the LiquidTrust either does not have potent oxytocin or it is in lower concentrations than reported.
After deciding to focus on immune cells for the remainder of the semester, we purchased primary blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). PBMCs are primary T cells, unlike the immortalized Jurkat T cell line that I have been working with the last several semesters. Primary cells allow for the discovery of a more sensitive response. PBMCs have been shown to have the oxytocin receptor. We purchased a Fluo-4 AM Calcium assay kit that detects changes in intracellular calcium levels using a fluorescent plate reader. G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling involves an increase in intracellular calcium, therefore any signaling through the oxytocin receptor (a GPCR) should cause an increase in calcium. I tested both Jurkat cells and PBMCs for changes in calcium levels after treatment with a calcium ionophore (positive control), two different concentrations of oxytocin, and an oxytocin antagonist. Treatment with the calcium ionophore significantly increased intracellular calcium levels, but neither oxytocin nor the oxytocin antagonist increased intracellular calcium. This reinforces previous data indicating that oxytocin is unlikely to be signaling through the oxytocin receptor in immune cells. Specific intracellular proteins were also investigated in PBMCs treated with oxytocin, which also showed no change in intracellular signaling.
Coming into college, I did not have an idea of what the world of “research” was, but participating in undergraduate research has changed my life trajectory. I have found my niche and plan to pursue research in the future. Immediately, I will be working as a research technician in an intestinal stem cell lab at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine for the year following graduation. This summer, I will be applying to MD/PhD programs around the country to enter in Fall of 2014.
Dr. Ann J. Cahill
Professor of Philosophy
Spence Pavilion 111
2340 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244
Phone: (336) 278-5703
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