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McNair Scholar 2014Ambrosia Smith

Ambrosia Smith is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota in the College of Liberal Arts majoring in Biology, Society and The Environment. She anticipates pursuing a dual MD/Ph.D. degree after graduation. Her current research interests include neurodevelopment, sex differences in addiction and the effects of environmental toxins on the brain. She enjoys running and volunteering outside of the lab.

Ambrosia Smith photo
My dream is to serve as an advocate and mentor for future women of color in STEM.

Research project

Neural Mechanisms of Drug Abuse in Females

Abstract: Men and women differ in their vulnerability to abuse illicit drugs. A growing body of evidence suggests that the female hormone estradiol underlies this sex difference. Previously we found that estradiol acts within the striatum to induce structural plasticity that may be relevant for addictive behaviors; however, the mechanisms whereby this occurs are unknown. We hypothesized that estradiol may exert its effects on addictive behaviors by modulating cannabinoid system functioning within the striatum. Tissue punches from the striatum and the hippocampus were collected from ovariectomized female Sprague Dawley rats previously treated with either estradiol (n=5) or vehicle (cottonseed oil; n=4). Tissue punches were then processed and quantified using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We found that estradiol modulates endocannabinoid synthesis within the striatum, but not within the hippocampus. These data suggest that estradiol may act via the cannabinoid system in the striatum to ultimately drive addictive behaviors in females. Download poster. [PDF]

Faculty profile

Paul Mermelstein is an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Tufts University, and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan. He is interested in sex differences in the brain. Dr. Mermelstein enjoys spending time with his family when not in the lab.

Luis Martinez is a post-doctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Mermelstein, within the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. He received his B.S in Psychology from the University at Buffalo (where he was a McNair Scholar), and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georgia State University. His research interests include examining the neural mechanisms whereby steroid hormones such as estrogen influence the development and progression of addictive behaviors in females. When not in the lab, Luis enjoys spending time with his African pygmy hedgehog, Albie.

Brittni Peterson graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a B.S. in Neuroscience. She is entering her fourth year as a graduate student in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, where she conducts her research under Dr. Robert L. Meisel and Paul G. Mermelstein. In her spare time, Brittni enjoys rocking climbing and baking.