Project 11

Effects of early life experience on spatial cognition, neurogenesis and neurohormonal responses to stress

ESR 11: Lucille Dumontier     Supervisors: Janicke Nordgreen & Andrew Janczak    

Location: Norwegian University of Life Sciences 

Project Description

The stress response is a conserved trait of vertebrate physiology and is similar from fish to mammals. Animals modify their stress response within their defined genetic capacity based on information gained from a variety of sources. Animals are especially sensitive to such information during early development, thereby configuring the brain to respond in a particular way to stressors later in life. This project will investigate how the degree of complexity of the early rearing environments influence stress responsiveness and cognition and relate this to the level of neurogenesis.  The work will include intervention experiments in order to understand the effects of the early environment, behavioural testing, physiological sample collection, sample preparation and analysis. 

Project Update 1st March 2022

It has been a while since my last update but no worries, I will catch you up. I am now in the third and last year of my PhD, which means everything starts to fall into place. I have been working on writing methods for my upcoming publications, and on running statistical analysis on the behavioural data I collected. As I was halfway through my project, I passed my Midterm seminar in the summer. The aim was to present to my faculty and colleagues the advances of my project and remaining work, but also discuss any challenges that has been faced over the first half of the project. Luckily for me, no major issues were to be discussed and I was then ready to leave for my secondment at Newcastle University. I joined the Smulders lab for three months during the autumn term, and I was very excited to finally meet the Newcastle team! I started the neurogenesis work and I processed brain samples collected at the end of my experimental work. I now have thousands scans of hippocampus sections I need to analyse to see any effects of the environmental complexity during early-life and adulthood on neurogenesis. More to follow soon!

Project Update 13th January 2021

It is almost a year since I started work on my project, and most of my time has been shared between long days at the farm and home office work.  I have been pretty busy leading experiments to complete my data collection, which means my hens have also been hard at work!  I have tested them in several behavioural tests to assess their fearfulness and their cognitive abilities, and I have collected blood samples to study their stress responsivity.  At the end of the experiments, I also collected some brain samples. The idea is to study the difference in neurogenesis between the different treatment groups. Indeed, there is a link between neurogenesis in the hippocampus and cognitive performances, and I am looking forward to studying this aspect during my secondment in Newcastle.  Due to the current situation my secondment has been postponed by a few months, but if everything goes well (fingers crossed!) I shall travel to Newcastle in September. I cannot wait to learn more about these analyses and meet other members of the ChickenStress network!

Project Update 28th Feb 2020

My first few weeks in Norway have already been very exciting! As soon as I arrived, I jumped into the experimental work and things have been quite busy. I spent most of my time working at the farm to sample the first brains and dissect the hippocampus, and in the lab to sort and prepare the samples for further analyses of neurogenesis. I have also attended my first lab meeting and been introduced to other lab members.
Now that the first round of stress testing and sample collection is done, things will get quieter and I will have time to plan the next experiments, i.e. evaluating the spatial cognition of laying hens reared in cage or aviary. I have already started to read papers on the subject, and I am looking forward to designing the protocol of this new round of testing!