May 8, 2019 at 2:22 pm

Physics-Neuroscience Major Sheds Light on Neurofilament Activity

Anika Friedman, a double major in Physics and Neuroscience in Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College, spent two years on her undergraduate research project focused on determining the mechanism for neurofilament slowing using computational models.

Neurofilaments are the most abundant filamentous structures in the axons of neurons and determine their cross sectional areas, which in turn determine how fast neurons can conduct signals.

“Anika, double majoring in physics and neuroscience, was a perfect match for this research project,” said Dr. Peter Jung, Distinguished Professor of Physics, and Friedman’s senior thesis adviser. Beyond her physics and math skills, she already understood the neurobiology underlying this project. “In addition, she turned out a prolific computer programmer. She learns quickly and was able to learn and use, for example, parallel programming tools to make her code more efficient.”

The next step is for Friedman to prepare her senior thesis for publication.

Anika Friedman

Anika Friedman

“Anika made an important discovery concerning the interpretation of routine experiments measuring the velocity of neurofilaments by computationally simulating those experiments,” Jung said. “She found that their outcomes have been misinterpreted, thereby challenging the findings of a significant body of research reported during the last 30 years. This discovery will be the basis of a publication we are currently preparing. This discovery has important implications for our understanding of axonal growth during development.”

Friedman investigated the hypothesis that neurofilament slowing reported in radio pulse-labeling experiments is not in fact happening but is rather an artifact of the experimental design. To verify this theory, longer trials are needed, and to simulate different axons taken from different experimental data sets.

“This topic intrigues me because it showcases the ways in which computer simulations of biological processes can provide insights that could not be attained through biological experiments,” Friedman said. “If we are correct, then computer simulations have proven to be – in addition to experimentation – an important tool for discovery.”

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