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Westminster College Students and Professor Present Research at Society for Neuroscience Conference

Friday, February 21, 2014

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Westminster College students Katherine Bowers and Sarah Roth each presented research with Dr. Robin McGovern, Westminster assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in San Diego, Calif., during the Fall Semester.

Roth and McGovern presented "The Effect of Amphetamine on Ethanol Consumption." Amphetamine has been prescribed to humans with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for many years.  However, recently there has been increased attention given to diversion of prescription amphetamine for recreational use.  Additionally, simultaneous drug use among amphetamine and ethanol has become more common. 

The purpose of the study was to examine amphetamine's effect on ethanol consumption in a limited access paradigm.  Roth and McGovern determined a baseline drinking level for rats, and then gave them amphetamine injections 15 minutes prior to giving the rats a choice of water or 12 percent ethanol. An assessment was then made comparing baseline drinking and drinking with amphetamine injections. Amphetamine was expected to decrease consumption in a limited access setting. 

The implications of this study could yield further information on the effects of amphetamine on acute ethanol consumption.  These implications can be applied to human cases because of how amphetamine and ethanol interact in both human and rodent models.  

Roth, a senior neuroscience major, is a daughter of Christian and Shari Roth of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Shaler Area High School.

Bowers and McGovern presented "The Effects of Amphetamine and Ethanol on Motor Coordination." This experiment was done with an accelerating rotating spindle and the Morris water maze to measure the effects of four drug combinations - amphetamine, ethanol, amphetamine and ethanol together, and a saline control. 

Ethanol has previously been shown to have detrimental effects on motor coordination. It was hypothesized that animals injected with ethanol alone would have the most severely impaired motor coordination causing the rats to fall off the accelerating rotating spindle.  Furthermore, knowing that psychostimulants can have both positive and negative effects on skill learning it was further predicted that the rats injected with amphetamine and ethanol simultaneously would also show deficits in the rotating spindle task performance as compared to the saline and amphetamine only groups. 

With respect to the water maze task, amphetamine has been shown to increase memory retention on tasks of spatial memory abilities, and it was hypothesized that rats injected with amphetamine only would have better memory retention of the escape path in the maze. Additionally, similar experiments have shown that mice injected with ethanol also have spatial memory impairment. It was anticipated that animals injected with only ethanol or the combination of ethanol and amphetamine would have poorer performance on the task compared to the amphetamine only and control groups.

It is hoped that findings from these studies will expand the knowledge base for potential adverse reactions to psychostimulant-depressant interactions with implications for using psychostimulants to treat clinical disorders such as ADHD.  

Bowers, a senior psychology major, is a daughter of William and Lucinda Bowers of Orrville, Ohio, and a graduate of Wooster High School.

McGovern also recently submitted a paper to Behavioral Pharmacology, and is awaiting word on acceptance to the publication. She co-authored "The Influence of Sensitization on the Discriminative Stimulus Effects of Methylphenidate" with William C. Griffin III and Kelly Knecht.

Methylphenidate (MPH) remains an important therapy for ADHD and the pharmacology of MPH is still being examined.  Previous exposure to MPH can produce locomotor sensitization, but it is unknown if sensitization occurs with the discriminative stimulus effects of the therapy.  McGovern and her colleagues used a sensitizing regimen of MPH in mice to determine if sensitization to the locomotor stimulating effects of MPH influenced the acquisition and the dose-response function for the discriminative stimulus effects of MPH in a classic drug discrimination procedure.  

McGovern, who joined the faculty in 2011, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Medical University of South Carolina. 

Contact McGovern at 724-946-8166 or email for additional information.

About Westminster College...
Founded in 1852 and related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Westminster College ranks first in the nation as "Best College for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," according to Forbes.com. Westminster is a top-tier liberal arts college and a national leader in graduation rate performance, according to U.S. News Best Colleges guide. Westminster is also honored as one of "The Best 378 Colleges" by The Princeton Review, and is named to the President's Honor Roll for excellence in service learning.

Nearly 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students benefit from individualized attention from dedicated faculty while choosing from 41 majors and nearly 100 organizations on the New Wilmington, Pa., campus. Visit www.westminster.edu/advantage to view "Advantage: Westminster" A Strategic Plan 2010-2020.