Dr. Shivani Mann is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience, working alongside Dr. Haijiang Cai on projects that seek to understand the neurocircuitry of taste. She wants to get to the bottom of questions like: Why does this region of the brain have neurons that respond to sweet taste? Even though she is fairly new to the campus, Dr. Mann is looking forward to collaborating with researchers across university departments and making the most of her new work-life balance as a postdoc.
What kind of projects have you been working on lately?
Mann: Our lab is interested in understanding the neurocircuitry involved in feeding behaviors. In the amygdala, which is the ‘fight or flight’ brain region, there are neurons that respond to different kinds of tastes; some neurons in this region respond to a bitter taste and some neurons respond to sweet taste. You would expect bitter to be associated with the fight or flight center, like if you taste something bitter you’d want to remember, ‘Hey, don't eat that. That's really dangerous for you.’ That part makes sense. The part that's less understood is the sweet response.
I'm going to be working with transgenic mouse models where you can selectively label the neurons in a specific region and then later go back and artificially stimulate or inactivate these neurons. So, what I'm wanting to do with my work is selectively label the neurons in the amygdala that respond to sweet taste. Then I want to put the animals in some sort of a stressing context, and see if I can stimulate these sweet neurons to alleviate anxiety or depressive behaviors. We also want to investigate if activating these sweet neurons can improve decision making in the mice.
What do you love most about your work?
Mann: There's a lot of flexibility. When you're working with animal behavior and selective neuronal modulation like this, there's all sorts of things you can look into and test. So, I think the open-endedness of it is something that I enjoy a lot.
What do you enjoy about the University of Arizona?
Mann: My whole family is here, and it's really nice having everyone together. The university is really nice and pretty, and it's great seeing dogs around campus sometimes. One thing that's really exciting to me is the amount of resources that we have on this campus, both with things like the Postdoc Association and the overall collaboration potential.
I had been on a medical campus for the past decade, so I am really excited about the amount of departments and disciplines that we have here; I feel like there's so much variation in the research being done on this campus.
How has your experience as a postdoc affected your personal and professional growth?
Mann: Being a post-doc has been challenging and enlightening, it’s definitely difficult being outside of my comfort zone in research after so long in grad school. The big thing that I'm working on right now is just trying to find my own balance. I’m trying to remain productive and produce good science without stressing myself out too much, and I’ve also been working on reclaiming my hobbies outside of the lab.
Tell us something about yourself that we might not learn from your CV.
Mann: I really love dogs- I have five of them! And adopting older dogs is something that I'm passionate about. I'm always interested in finding new video games to play and new friends to game with. I'm also really into art and aesthetics; I recently started doing custom shoe painting, which is something that I'm hoping to maybe do on the side, but for now it's been really enjoyable.