Meet Justin Jarovi, a PhD candidate from Kaori Takehara-Nishiuchi’s lab

Meet Justin Jarovi, a PhD candidate from Kaori Takehara-Nishiuchi’s lab! 

  Justin’s research focuses on how a particular brain region, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)  contributes to learning associations between stimuli and how it can use past learning to aid in creating adaptive responses to new situations. He aims to use the activity of single neurons in real-time to uncover just what the mPFC is doing. 

We had the opportunity to ask Justin a few questions about his academic career, and here is what he had to say: 

  Q: What species do you work with?  

A: Long-Evans Rats. 

  Q: Where has your research taken you?  

A: I’ve been lucky enough to present my findings at international conferences such as the Society for Neuroscience conferences in the USA, as well as conferences closer to home like the Gairdner & York University Neuroscience Symposium. Aside from all the discussions with fellow trainees and professors at various conferences and student lunches, I’ve also had the opportunity to directly collaborate with other neuroscience researchers who work at different institutions.  

  Q: What drew you to pursue a career in research?  

A: Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been very fascinated with wanting to understand how the universe works. So much so, that I almost ended up pursuing a career in physics. Instead, I decided to pursue neuroscience because I thought to myself: how can I understand how the rest of the universe works, if I can’t even understand how my own thoughts work? 

  Q: Have you made any discoveries you weren’t expecting?  

A: Yes, most of them were unexpected. Originally, I was looking at how the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) directs the encoding of new information. I was artificially enhancing mPFC activity, and expected it to have an effect on the part of the task that had previously been shown to require the mPFC. I was surprised when we instead found it had no effect on this part of the task, but rather, it allowed rats to learn the initial cue association faster in an earlier part of the task. 

  Q: What are some challenges you have come across and/or overcome in your research?  

A: Things not working out as planned, which of course is often how new discoveries are uncovered. After publishing our previous finding, I was using the same chemogenetic manipulation to investigate the effect of mPFC activation on learning while recording from single neurons. While piloting these experiments, the drug we were using was changed, and we could no longer get it to work like it had in the past. We started seeing unusual patterns of brain activity, and after seeing this on multiple animals, decided that it was best to move away from this chemogenetic manipulation. Luckily, I could still at least move forward with the single-unit recordings in rats. 

  Q: Tell us about your research and any ongoing studies or projects.  

A: We’re often faced with different information in various situations, and we need to be able respond to them depending on each unique scenario. Sometimes the information given is not fully clear, and we need to infer information that isn’t directly available in order to make the most appropriate choice. Previously I looked at how enhancing mPFC activity can facilitate associative learning. My current project investigates how the mPFC uses previously learned information in a novel way to generate adaptive behaviours that are dependent on the current situation that the rat is faced with. By recording the synergistic activity of individual neurons, I’m able to see not only how single neurons encode these associations, but also how the ensemble of neuronal activity comes together to represent the various aspects of the task in order to drive this new behaviour. 

  Do you want to learn more about Justin’s past work? Check out this article: 

  Jarovi J, Volle J, Yu X, Guan L, & Takehara-Nishiuchi K (2018) Prefrontal theta oscillations promote selective encoding of behaviorally relevant events. eNeuro, 5(6), e0407-18.2018. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0407-18.2018.