2020 Andrew C. Comrie Endowment Recipient, Matthew Schmit, Neuroscience GIDP Ph.D. Candidate

The Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs’ Andrew C. Comrie Doctoral Fellowship honors Dr. Comrie’s strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and study as witnessed by the many years Dr. Comrie has dedicated to research as an interdisciplinary climate scientist and geographer. In addition, he has participated in the GIDPs from the time he first arrived at The University of Arizona and through the years of his university leadership roles as former Provost, Associate Vice-President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College.

 

Matthew is a Tucson native who was part of the second ever graduating class from the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science BS program. As well as being an exceptional student in the Neuroscience GIDP Cai Lab, Matthew spends most of his free time doing science outreach within the community. “Taking the neuroscience demonstration, I helped build, called B the Brain, to the Tucson Festival of Books, as a guest in middle school classrooms, Flandreau Planetarium, the UA STEAM workshop, and many others to get the next generation of scientists excited and empowered.” Outside of his studies, Matthew serves as artistic director for the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble, a polish folk dance group, which instills the rich cultural background of Tucson at different festivals and at events around the nation.

 

Research Interests

Neural Circuits, Calcium Imaging, Emotions, Feeding, Computational Neuroscience

 

Research Summary 

The Amygdala is a crossroads of information in the brain, integrating emotionally relevant information from all modalities and processing it in complex ways we do not understand, eventually directly influencing the entire brain, especially brain nuclei involved in basic survival functions like eating, threat responses, down to something as basic as thermoregulation. I want to understand how this information is integrated and processed from a neural circuits perspective. This means understanding what information different populations of neurons integrate and how that activity influences behavior. My work focuses on understanding the brain circuits involved in eating, or more specifically, not eating. Eating keeps us alive but choosing not to eat to avoid a predator or poisonous food, or to care for offspring can be just as important for survival. We understand very little about how this balance functions on a neurological level, what information goes into it, how motivational states play into this balance, but we know the amygdala is part of it. The central nuclei of the amygdala (CeA), specifically a subset of its neurons marked by the expression of protein kinase c-delta (PKCδ+), play a role in inhibiting feeding. When these neurons are silenced mice fail to reduce food intake in response to the satiety hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) or in response to visceral malaise. My main project involves studying these neurons in a normally behaving mouse using in-vivo calcium imaging. Before, we have manipulated the activity of these neurons in bulk, but how they naturally act during feeding is unknown. I am working to fill this gap. I also study how the projections from the insular cortex influence these neurons and feeding behaviors. Our data has shown that activating this pathway inhibits feeding. We employed computational modeling to explore the different circuit structures in the amygdala that could exits to produce feeding inhibition when this pathway is activated. This also lets us explore possible changes in brain state caused by activation in a more nuanced way.

 

 

 

"It is an incredible honor to receive the Andrew C. Comrie fellowship and the support structure that comes with it. In my mission to understand the connection between the brain and behavior, it has always been clear that one field cannot singlehandedly bridge that entire gap. To be recognized by people with so much passion and success in this philosophical approach is definitely a highlight in my scientific career.”

Last updated 13 Oct 2020