Chris Ward, Ph.D.
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Research Topics / Lab PersonnelCurrent Research
Our research lab operates with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and internal funding through Faculty Research Support Funds. Present research is interested in exploring the neurochemical and neuroanatomical pathways that mediate cognitive deficits due to sleep loss.
The laboratory is located in an approximately 3500 square foot facility accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International. It includes dedicated small animal holding rooms, wet lab, histology lab, procedure room, and behavioral testing rooms. The lab is well equipped to facilitate research, including a water maze, elevated plus maze, activity monitor, star-burst maze, operant chambers, place preference boxes, stereotaxic apparatus, and a polysomnography system. In addition, through the Chemistry and Biology programs, we have access to analytical chemistry and microscopy equipment.
Robert Strecker, Harvard Medical School
John McCoy, Stonehill College
James Timothy McKenna, Harvard Medical School
Jaime Tartar, Nova Southeastern University
In the press
Many of our research projects involve testing spatial memory in rodents. This is accomplished by testing rats in the water maze. The water maze is a large round container filled with opaque water. It contains a hidden platform that rats must swim to in order to be removed from the water. The reference memory version of this test depends heavily on a particular region of the brain, the hippocampus. Hippocampal function can be negatively affected by sleep loss. Sleep fragmentation following training in the water maze will disrupt the consolidation of the spatial memory so that 24 hrs later, rats perform at chance level (Ward, McCoy, et al., 2009). Perhaps more interesting, though, are the results if sleep fragmentation precedes training. Rats that underwent 24 hrs of sleep fragmentation prior to learning the water maze task demonstrated learning impairments (Tartar, Ward, et al., 2006). In other words, “sleepy” rats showed difficulty learning a hippocampal dependent task. By varying the water maze task so that spatial working memory is tested, “sleepy” rats are not impaired (Ward et al., 2009). The most striking finding is that hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP) is virtually eliminated in rats following 24 hrs of sleep fragmentation (Tartar, Ward, et al., 2006). This suggests that there is an impairment in the memory circuit caused by sleepiness.