Maggie Xu - Untitled

In this piece, epigenetic changes are represented by how drug exposure changes the color of the "car." As a result, the car must take a different route than the one the unaffected yellow cars usually take. The road is made to look like a neuron to show how the cars will literally travel down different neural pathways.

Maggie Xu - Untitled

In this image, the X's represent negative outcomes while the stars represent rewards. When both sexes are presented with the same information, the female focuses more on avoiding all the potential negative outcomes that she primarily sees while the male shows no initial bias.

The Erin Calipari Lab

Our research seeks to characterize and modulate the precise circuits in the brain that underlie both adaptive and maladaptive processes in reward, motivation, and associative learning, to develop improved treatments for complex and devastating psychiatric disorders.

Our research is guided by two overarching questions:

  1. How do neural circuits integrate experiences with positive and negative stimuli to guide future behavior?

  2. What are the molecular dysregulations that drive maladaptation in these processes?

One of the most fundamental forms of learning is the ability to associate positive and negative stimuli with cues that predict their occurrence. The ability to seek out rewarding stimuli and avoid negative stimuli is critical to survival and is evolutionarily conserved across species. Organisms achieve this by assigning value to cues that predict these stimuli; however, dysregulation of these processes can precipitate a number of psychiatric disease states. Addiction, depression, and anxiety are all examples of syndromes characterized in part by dysregulation of associative learning. These are among the most prevalent neuropsychiatric disorders and are highly comorbid. Therefore, understanding the neural mechanisms governing associative learning has widespread implications for developing treatment interventions for psychiatric disease. Our work aims to combine cutting edge technology with comprehensive models of psychiatric disease to understand the circuit and molecular dysregulation that underlies these disorders.

The artists

Maggie Xu

Art has always been a part of Maggie's life between the art classes she took growing up and the doodles that constantly covered her notes in school. For the most part however, she considered it a hobby and generally viewed it as separate from academics. Upon coming to Vanderbilt, she wanted to explore art more and found out about ArtLab through an upperclassman. She immediately fell in love with ArtLab's mission and completed an ArtLab Fellowship project during the spring semester before applying for the Artist-in-Residence program this summer.

As a psychology major and neuroscience minor, Maggie was excited to get paired with Dr. Erin Calipari, whose research focuses on how the neural circuitry for processes such as reward learning and motivation contributes to psychiatric disorders.

Maggie appreciates Dr. Calipari and the Calipari Lab members for being so welcoming as they explained their research projects and provided articles and book chapters for her to read. During her residency, Maggie worked on generating art for two research projects. One studied the differences in reward seeking and avoidance behavior between sexes while the second looked at how drug-induced epigenetic changes contribute to the development of substance abuse disorder.

Having had some experience with digital art before, Maggie wanted to continue exploring the digital drawing app's different functions and chose to create art digitally this summer. Working with a neuroscience and psychology focused lab, she enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to visually represent abstract concepts like risk and reward.

Overall Maggie is grateful to ArtLab and the Calipari Lab for giving her the opportunity to delve into the science illustration facet of art while learning about current neuroscience research. It was an amazing experience, and Maggie hopes to continue finding ways to combine her two interests in the future.

Suggested Learning activities 

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6-8

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9-12

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The World of Viruses 

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