Our post-doctoral researchers are integral to the scientific discoveries made at the OHSU Brain Institute. We strive to mentor and challenge our postdocs to take control of their careers. Through professional development, strong mentorships, unique collaborations, and resources for research and funding, we welcome the future of neuroscience to train with us.
Postdoctoral Spotlight: Antonia Savarese, Ph.D.
I majored in Psychology at Loyola University Chicago and really became fascinated with how you can study the brain to understand behavior. After I graduated, I started working in the lab of Pauline Maki, Ph.D., at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to gain additional experience in research. Dr. Maki's lab studies the roles that sex and stress hormones play in modulating cognition and mental health, with a special focus on women's mental health and the menopausal transition. I was really intrigued by the effects that stress can have on brain functioning and how changes in the stress system can make a person vulnerable to all types of diseases. When I entered the graduate program in Neuroscience at UIC I became increasingly attracted to the types of questions that could be answered through the use of animal models. I sought out opportunities to conduct translational research and decided to join the lab of Amy Lasek, Ph.D. Dr. Lasek's work primarily focuses on the molecular biology and genetics of alcohol and drug abuse, and how perturbing different neuronal pathways could alter drug-related behaviors. My dissertation focused on the role of asingle gene, Lmo3, in modulating anxiety-like behaviors and behavioral responses to alcohol. I found that Lmo3 knockout mice had reduced expression of a stress hormone, corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and they exhibited reduced anxiety-like behavior. I knew from my graduate work that I wanted to stay within the alcohol genetics/neurobiology field, so I started looking for labs where I could postdoc.
My postdoc mentor, John Crabbe, Ph.D., is a well-known behavioral geneticist and has really made a tremendous impact in the alcohol research field. I met him to discuss a possible postdoc position at Society for Neuroscience in 2016 and we just had a very natural rapport right away. Dr. Crabbe is a big thinker and I knew I could learn a lot from him, as both a science and career mentor. His lab would have been an excellent choice for a postdoc for those reasons alone, but combined with the fantastic training atmosphere of the Behavioral Neuroscience department at OHSU (where there is a large group of researchers studying addiction and a very collegial environment) AND the city of Portland, I knew I couldn't pass this opportunity up.
My research focuses on the effects of the glucocorticoidreceptor (GR), one of the primary stress hormone receptors, in regulating high-risk drinking. There's a large literature to support stress, and particularly GR, in alcohol dependence. I'm working with a genetically heterogeneous line of mice, the High Drinking in the Dark mice, which have been selectively bred for achieving high blood ethanol concentrations after a binge-like drinking session. I'm investigating how selective breeding has changed the glucocorticoid receptor system in these mice and whether this is one of the molecular pathways that underlies their escalated, high-risk, drinking. I'm currently testing out different pharmacotherapies that target GR and its regulator proteins in these mice with the aim of determining whether manipulating this system could be a potential treatment for individuals with an alcohol use disorder.
I LOVE Portland. My family (my husband, Andrei, and my daughter, Evelina) and I moved here from Chicago. I was born and raised in the Chicago area and have always called it home (my family all still lives there), so it was very difficult to leave. I was nervous about how well we would adjust in Portland, but I really shouldn't have worried at all. Portland is amazing.The availability of good food is astounding given the size of the city, and great beer and wine are really at our fingertips. Not to mention the coffee! Beyond food and drinks, Portland is right between the mountains to the east and the coast to the west, both of which are only about 1.5 hours drive. There are two excellent wine regions surrounding the city and great hiking opportunities (even IN the city!). There's a lot of rain, sure, but the silver lining is that the city and surrounding areas are super lush and green all through the winter months. And honestly, almost anything beats a Chicago winter.
My husband and I are featured in a commercial! The story of our meeting is pretty unusual. Andrei was born in Moscow, Russia, and had moved to Milwaukee when he was 20 years old (to pursue the American dream, as he always says). That's where he was living when we met. At the time, I was living in Chicago and had started reading Russian literature, was captivated by Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and decided on a whim that I wanted to read it in its native language. I ordered Rosetta Stone in Russian and started using the program right when I received it. The next day, I went out with a group of my friends in Chicago. One of the girls in my group was dating afriend of Andrei's, and Andrei had come down to Chicago to visit that friend. When I found out that Andrei was from Russia, I ran up to him and said the only Russian word I could remember after my first Russian session. The word was "яблоко", which means apple. Apparently, he was charmed by me just shouting "apple" at him and we started talking. We started dating about a month later, got married a few years after that, and now have a beautiful little girl. The Rosetta Stone company has been filming stories of how their product has changed people's lives. A friend of ours started working in the creative department at Rosetta Stone and pitched our story to them. They contacted us about making a commercial about our story, and we agreed! The video is online now and airs on Hulu.