Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Zoe Donaldson

Second Advisor

Dr. Pamela Harvey

Third Advisor

Dr. David Root


Humans are among a small percentage of mammals that form monogamous relationships. These relationships, along with other strong social bonds, are essential to human well-being. In the absence of strong social relationships, humans experience a variety of detrimental conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease. Traditional barriers to studying social bonds stem from the use of lab rodents such as mice and rats which do not form selective social attachments. However, the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) does form these selective social attachments. The robust social bonds – pair bonds – formed between adult prairie voles may be observed and therefore studied. An important element of these social bonds is the neurotransmitter dopamine which is well known to be involved in reward processes. GRABDA is a synthetic dopamine type 2 receptor with an attached GFP, which upon dopamine binding, adopts the optimal conformation for fluorescence. Changes in fluorescence due to dopamine binding are observable in behaving animals via fiber photometry. I observed reliable increases in GRABDA fluorescence upon sucrose consumption and these increases were largely blocked by the application of the dopamine antagonist, eticlopride hydrochloride. Together, these results suggest that GRABDA is a suitable tool for measuring dopamine levels, although additional validation is ongoing. GRABDA will help to elucidate the quantity and temporal changes in dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens when a prairie vole interacts with its partner or a stranger before and after forming a pair bond. For the first time ever, dopamine temporal dynamics are observable in real time in a behaving prairie vole.