Christine Fontaine successfully defends her PhD Dissertation - Congratulations!


On Dec. 12, 2018, Christine Fontaine successfully defended her PhD Dissertation entitled "Not All is Lost; Prenatal Ethanol Exposure Impairs Bidirectional Synaptic Plasticity in the Juvenile Dentate Gyrus" (Division of Medical Sciences, Neuroscience Graduate Program). She addressed her examining committee with grace and confidence, surrounded by colleagues, family, and friends.

Christine's PhD Dissertation examined the impact of prenatal ethanol exposure (PNEE) on glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the juvenile dentate gyrus (a special subregion of a part of the brain called the hippocampus) in both males and females. Synaptic plasticity refers to changes in the efficacy of neural communication as a result of prior experience or patterns of activation and include processes such as long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD). Both LTP, LTD and other forms of plasticity are thought to underlie learning and memory.

Christine's data are the first to describe the impact of PNEE on the range of bidirectional synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus region of the brains of juvenile male and female offspring. The findings in this dissertation further describe the potential mechanistic underpinnings of learning and memory deficits, and help identify new therapeutic targets to examine which may enhance hippocampal function in young people afflicted with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). This work also highlights the importance of studying males and females in similar studies as they may be differentially affected by neurological dysfunction.

Her work is inspired by the high incidence of FASDs, which are among the leading preventable disorders in North America, and are caused by PNEE. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of FASDs, and is characterized by growth deficits, identifiable facial anomalies, and damage to the central nervous system, which can lead to a wide range of cognitive, behavioural and other problems such as seizures, problems with coordination, visual motor difficulties, decreased IQ, significant developmental delays, attention deficit and hyperactivity problems.

Here at DMSC we are pleased that Christine will be starting a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, and continuing her important research in Dr. Brian Christie's lab.