Source: University of Otago
Dr Joon Kim from the Physiology Department.
With Marsden Grant funding from the NZ Royal Society/Te Apārangi, Dr Joon Kim plans to produce the first evidence of how CRH neural circuits affect anxiety, providing insights into how stress affects the mind.
“I plan to use a combination of optical techniques to manipulate and record the activity of CRH neurons in mice to understand how the communication between neural populations in the brain causes changes in anxiety states.”
The Research Fellow is based in the Physiology Department of the School of Biomedical Sciences and has been working for several years on stress hormones in Dr Karl Iremonger’s laboratory though now, with the Grant funding, Dr Kim will launch his own independent research program.
“Stress is one of the most commonly described factors in the development of anxiety disorders and yet it is unknown how stress neural circuits in the brain control anxiety,” Dr Kim says.
He explains that a person’s stress response is controlled by corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons and recently he identified that acute elevations in this neural activity are associated with a switch from low anxiety to high anxiety behaviours.
Kim plans to use the $360,000 grant to investigate how these neurons mediate this behavioural switch, as he felt that current anxiety research is mostly behavioural and he wanted to have a more mechanistic approach as to what is actually happening in the brain when a person feels anxious.
“I plan to use a combination of optical techniques to manipulate and record the activity of CRH neurons in mice to understand how the communication between neural populations in the brain causes changes in anxiety states,” Kim says.
Kim says that researching stress is one of the “more ironic jobs a person could have”, though he was inspired by how stress affected his own behaviour and began to explore the research topic out of his own curiosity.
He is “extremely excited” to have received this grant as “getting to this stage has had a series of ups and downs with more to come” but that this is a journey he is prepared to go on.
Kim attended St Bede’s College in Christchurch and did both his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Otago, noting that during undergrad his would-be PhD supervisor gave a lecture which inspired him to pursue a career in neuroscience research.
The School of Biomedical Sciences won 11 of the 23 Marsden Grants awarded to the University of Otago this year, which totals at just over $8.7 million and is more than half of the funding that the University received overall.
Kōrero by School of Biomedical Sciences Communications Adviser, Kelsey Schutte
Department of Physiology: Dr Joon Kim