Heather DeCot




I graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia with a BS in Biology in May 2008. As an undergraduate, I was awarded a research grant to explore the effects of atrazine, one of the most commonly used agricultural herbicides in the world, on mRNA levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid receptor alpha (TRα) in zebrafish.  After graduation, I worked as a postbaccalaureate IRTA fellow in the Clinical Brain Disorders Branch at the NIMH, working in the lab of Dr. José A. Apud, Clinical Director of the Schizophrenia Research Program.  Specifically, I worked on pharmacological studies investigating genetic variation in responses to three medications that may enhance cognitive functioning in patients with schizophrenia and in healthy controls.  I also investigated the effect of placebo controlled medication withdrawal in patients with schizophrenia based on the COMT VAL108/158MET polymorphism.  Outside of the lab, I enjoy running, football, snow skiing, and am a certified advanced open water scuba diver.


As a graduate student in the Stuber lab, I am investigating how the selective activation of dopamine (DA) neurons within the midbrain alters the functional connectivity between these neurons and their postsynaptic target regions, as well as global patterns of brain connectivity.  To address this, I am coupling optogenetic stimulation techniques with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology in an in vivo rat model to selectively activate DA neuron cell bodies in the ventral midbrain as well as their synaptic terminals within forebrain targets.  To accomplish these experiments, our lab has established collaboration with the lab of Dr. Yen-Yu Ian Shih, director of the small mammal fMRI core and Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology here at UNC.  Through this research, I hope to enhance our understanding of how dopamine signaling alters functional connectivity in disease states such as schizophrenia.



Recipient of New Entrant Stipend for ISMRM 21st Annual Meeting & Exhibition
UNC Graduate Training Program in Translational Medicine Trainee
Recipient of Neurobiology Training Grant
Postbaccalaureate Intramural Training Award
Recipient of Undergraduate Research Grant
Recipient of the Peggy Ellis Gill ’53 Scholarship in Science
Alpha Phi Sigma Honor Society