When GSBS class speaker Linzy Hendrickson takes to the stage at Commencement on Sunday, June 5, she hopes to convey to her fellow graduates the importance of pursuing their own interests and creating their paths. Since her junior year in college, that’s what she has been doing.
While an undergraduate at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Hendrickson pursued a double major—psychology and molecular & cellular biology—thinking she was preparing for medical school. That changed when she had an opportunity to participate in an undergraduate research program and discovered a new love: neuroscience research.
Her dissertation, “Neuronal Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors: Molecular Targets for Alcoholism and Ethanol Reward,” which she completed at the Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute in the lab of Andrew Tapper, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry (Paul Gardner, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, was also a mentor), was the culmination of work that incorporated her unique interests and allowed her to shape her own path.
Combining her love of psychiatry with her basic science background, Hendrickson set out to understand the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the use and co-abuse of nicotine and alcohol, the two most commonly abused drugs in the world. “My work focused on the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors within the mesolimbic dopamine pathway in the brain, aka the ‘reward pathway’, as molecular targets for treating alcoholism and ethanol reward,” said Hendrickson. “I studied a specific type of nicotinic receptor that we know is critical for nicotine addiction and showed that it also modulates the acute rewarding aspects of alcohol reward.”
She hopes that the research team she was a part at the Brudnick will continue to further characterize the critical brain region and specific subtype of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor that is the key molecular target for therapeutics that will decrease the reward mechanism of alcohol abuse.
Hendrickson is currently doing post-doctoral research in the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at the University of Texas at Austin. Working in the lab of Hitoshi Morikawa, she is using slice electrophysiology to study how behaviors that lead to enhancement of dopamine release, including alcohol and food addiction, induce plastic changes in the reward circuitry of the brain. While pursuing her PhD, Hendrickson was lead author on papers published in Psychopharmacology and the Journal of Neuroscience and an invited speaker at several conferences, including the 2010 Society for Neuroscience Nanosymposium on Alcohol and Reward.
Although Hendrickson has left the Worcester area, she has very warm memories of her time here and misses her “Worcester family.” “The best part of our graduate program is that you get to know the people in your own class as well as the classes above and below. Many of came from all over the country, so we were always there for each other for celebrations and holidays as our little surrogate family,” she said.
Hendrickson graduates on Sunday in the class that includes the 500th PhD awarded by the GSBS, having completed a program she describes as one that “compels you to become the best scientist you can be.” Having been prepared by the GSBS to be a leader in her field, she enters the world of science intending to follow her own path toward scientific discoveries that could change the course of addiction treatment, and she is well on her way.