Skip to main content

Research Lab – Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences

The Lucas Lab

Dr. Lucas joined the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences as an Assistant Professor in January 2018. Dr. Lucas’s doctoral and postdoctoral training has spanned almost every subdiscipline of neuroscience, from molecular to systems to behavioral. Her doctoral research was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Rita Cowell in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). There she combined molecular biology with genetic approaches in mouse models to determine novel region- and cell-specific gene targets of a transcriptional coactivator implicated in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric illness. Her thesis was highlighted by the remarkable discovery that the transcriptional coactivator acts as a master regulator of gene programs necessary for the maturation and maintenance of cortical interneurons. Following her successful PhD work, Dr. Lucas joined the lab of Dr. Roger Clem as a postdoctoral fellow in the Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. There she incorporated optogenetic approaches with in vitro slice electrophysiology to examine experience-dependent plasticity of neural circuits after emotional learning. She found that emotional memory encoding results in persistent downregulation of inhibition in the amygdala, the emotional processing center of the brain, through extensive plasticity of local inhibitory interneurons. In addition to her research accomplishments, Dr. Lucas also has taught graduate- and undergraduate-level courses in statistics and molecular genetics at UAB and New York University. Dr. Lucas particularly enjoys mentoring students toward the completion of honors and thesis projects, and she and her students have received numerous accolades for their research. Her research program at NC State will utilize novel techniques, including cell-specific optogenetics, chemogenetics, and neural ensemble tagging, to elucidate novel cells and circuits underlying fear-, anxiety-, and depression-related behavior in mouse models.

Affiliations

  • Society for Neuroscience
  • M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology
  • Comparative Medicine Institute
  • Triangle Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience

Certifications

  • B.S. in Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham (2005)
  • Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Alabama at Birmingham (2011)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (2017)
Research in the Lucas Lab is driven by a passion to improve the lives of people with mental illness. We conduct preclinical research in animal models to understand the mechanisms underlying susceptibility to psychiatric illness, with an emphasis on sex as a biological factor. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with fear-, anxiety-, and mood-based psychiatric disorders, but the exclusion of female subjects in preclinical research has hindered our progress in elucidating the sex-specific neurobiological bases of such illnesses. Our laboratory utilizes a multifaceted, systems-based approach that combines in vivo behavioral manipulations with ex vivo electrophysiological, transcriptional, anatomical, and endocrinological analyses in mouse models to dissect the neurobiological mechanisms underlying sex differences in behavioral states relevant to mental illness at the levels of the cell and the circuit. This research seeks to expand upon previous research conducted by ourselves and others, in hopes of attaining novel, potentially sex-specific, therapeutic targets for devastating mental illnesses disproportionally experienced by women, for which there are currently limited effective treatments and no cures.
  • (2017) GABAergic interneurons: the orchestra or the conductor in fear learning and memory? In pressLucas, E.K. & Clem, R.L. | Brain Research Bulletin.
  • (2016) Multimodal and site-specific plasticity of amygdala parvalbumin interneurons after fear learning.Lucas, E.K., Jegarl, A.M., Morishita, H., & Clem, R.L. | Neuron, 91, 3: 629-643.
  • (2016) Cortical PGC-1α-dependent transcripts are reduced in postmortem tissue from patients with schizophrenia.McMeekin, L.J., Lucas, E.K., Meador-Woodruff, J.H., McCullumsmith, R.E., Hendrickson, R.C., Gamble, K.L., & Cowell, R.M. | Schizophrenia Bulletin, 42, 4: 1009-1017.
  • (2015) Interneuron transcriptional dysregulation causes frequency-dependent alterations in the balance of inhibition and excitation in hippocampus.Bartley, A.F., Lucas, E.K., Brady, L.J., Li, Q., Hablitz, J.J., Cowell, R.M., & Dobrunz, L.E. | Journal of Neuroscience, 35, 46: 15276-15290.
  • (2015) Cerebellar transcriptional alterations with Purkinje cell dysfunction and loss in mice lacking PGC-1α.Lucas, E.K., Reid, C.S., McMeekin, L.J., Dougherty, S.E., & Cowell, R.M. | Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, Special Issue, Neurodegeneration: from Genetics to Molecules, 8, 441: 1-13.
  • (2014) PGC-1α provides a transcriptional framework for synchronous neurotransmitter release from parvalbumin-positive interneurons.Lucas, E.K., Dougherty, S.E., McMeekin, L.J., Reid, C.S., West, A.B., Dobrunz, L.E., Hablitz, J.J., & Cowell, R.M. | Journal of Neuroscience, 34, 43: 14375-14387.
  • (2014) Mice lacking TrkB in parvalbumin-positive cells exhibit sexually dimorphic behavioral phenotypes.Lucas, E.K., Jegarl, A., & Clem, R.L. | Behavioural Brain Research, 274: 219-225.
  • (2014) Mice lacking the transcriptional coactivator PGC-1α exhibit alterations in inhibitory synaptic transmission in the motor cortex.Dougherty, S.E., Bartley, A.F., Lucas, E.K., Dobrunz, L.E., Hablitz, J.J., & Cowell, R.M. | Neuroscience, 271: 137-148.
  • (2013) Abnormal expression of glutamate transporters in temporal lobe areas in elderly patients with schizophrenia.Shan, D., Lucas, E.K., Drummond, J.B., Haroutunian, V., Meador-Woodruff, J.H., & McCullumsmith, R.E. | Schizophrenia Research, 144 (1-3): 1-8.
  • (2012) Developmental alterations in motor coordination and medium spiny neuron markers in mice lacking PGC-1α.Lucas, E.K., Dougherty, S.E., Trinh, A.T., Reid, C.S., McMeekin, L.J., & Cowell, R.M. | PLoS ONE, 7, 8: e42878.
  • (2012) Disruption of Purkinje cell function prior to huntingtin accumulation and cell loss in an animal model of Huntington Disease.Dougherty, S.E., Reeves, J. L., Lucas, E. K., Gamble, K. L., Lesort, M., & Cowell, R.M.  | Experimental Neurology, 236: 171-178.
  • (2010) Neuronal inactivation of PPARγ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α) protects mice from diet-induced obesity and leads to degenerative lesions.Ma, D., Li, S., Lucas, E.K., Cowell, R.M., & Lin, J.D. | Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285, 10: 39087-39095.
  • (2010) Parvalbumin deficiency and GABAergic dysfunction in mice lacking PGC-1α.Lucas, E.K., Markwardt, S.J., Gupta, S., Meador-Woodruff, J.H., Lin, J.D., Overstreet-Wadiche, L., & Cowell, R.M. | Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 21: 7227-7235.
  • (2009) Do perceptually salient stimuli reduce children’s risky decisions?Schwebel, D.C., Lucas, E.K., & Pearson, A. | Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 16, 3: 223-232.
  • (2007) Unintentional injury risk in children with externalizing behavior disorders at summer camp.Schwebel, D. C., Tavares, C. L., Lucas, E. K., Bowling, E. B., & Hodgens, J. B. | Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings 14, 2: 145-151
Elizabeth Lucas, PhD
Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor of Neurobiology
elizabeth_lucas@ncsu.edu
919-513-1885

 

Ara Wally
Research Assistant
Undergraduate Research Volunteer
NCSU Biological Sciences 2019

The W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology welcomes Dr. Lucas to NC State.

Dr. Lucas welcomes Ara Wally to the lab. Ara is pursuing a major in Biology with a concentration in Human Biology. She is originally from the NY State area and her future goal is to become a pediatric neurology physician. Prior to joining Dr. Lucas’s lab, Ara worked as a lab assistant for the University of Washington and volunteered as a research assistant at the Nahmani lab investigating the localization and activity-dependence of presynaptic GRIP1 on excitatory terminals in the visual cortex. Ara joined the Lucas lab because she is passionate about understanding how mental illness varies based on biological sex differences. On her spare time Ara enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and volunteering as a pediatric bilingual navigator for UNC Hospitals and as a medical Spanish translator for a free clinic.

The Lucas Lab is looking for talented individuals to join our team. See open positions below:

Postdoctoral Associate

We are seeking a postdoctoral associate to join our team in Summer or Fall 2018 to investigate how early-life experiences alter brain function and shape the ability to cope with stressful or traumatic events later in life. The successful candidate with lead a project assessing the causal relationship between puberty onset and inhibitory maturation in the basolateral amygdala, the emotional processing center of the brain, as well as how peri-puberty stress may affect this maturational process and lead to sex differences in susceptibility versus resilience to fear-, anxiety- and depression-related behaviors later in life. This interdisciplinary project will incorporate several cutting-edge techniques, including optogenetics, chemogenetics, and cell-specific transcriptional profiling, with whole-cell slice electrophysiology and behavioral analysis. Applicants for this position should have a doctoral degree in neuroscience or a related field. Expertise (or a strong desire to gain expertise) in slice electrophysiology is required. Interested candidates should send their current CV, names and contact information for 3 references, a one-page statement of interest, and a writing sample to elizabeth_lucas@ncsu.edu.

Graduate Student

The Lucas Lab will accept rotating graduate students beginning in Fall 2018. Students interested in joining the lab should apply to the Neurosciences concentration area of Comparative Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Information about the program can be found here: https://research.ncsu.edu/neurosciences/graduate-studies/. Students already at NC State interested in rotating in the lab should contact Dr. Lucas directly to set up a meeting.

Research Technician

A research technician position is immediately available in the Lucas Lab. The successful applicant will manage the daily operations of the lab and perform experiments. Lab management duties will include ordering supplies, maintaining the mouse colony, and ensuring compliance with all federal, state, and institutional policies. Meticulous record keeping and organizational skills is essential. Non-managerial duties will include planning, executing, and analyzing experiments for independent research projects as well as acting as laboratory support for other members of the lab, such as performing stereotaxic surgeries, gonadectomies, and estrus cycle monitoring. The research technician is expected to contribute to the intellectual growth of the lab by presenting data at lab meetings, reading scientific publications relevant to the lab’s research, and assisting in the preparation of manuscripts and conference presentations. A bachelor’s degree in neuroscience or related field and a 2-year commitment to the Lucas Lab are required. Previous research experience in a neuroscience laboratory is highly desirable.  Interested candidates should send their current CV, names and contact information for 3 references, and a one-page statement of interest to elizabeth_lucas@ncsu.edu.

Undergraduate Research Volunteers

NC State undergraduates wanting to gain hands-on research experience in the Lucas Lab are encouraged to apply for research volunteer positions. Undergraduates in the Lucas Lab will work closely with Dr. Lucas, a postdoctoral researcher, or a graduate student to complete independent research projects that contribute to the larger goals of the lab. Research volunteers will have the opportunity to learn techniques such as mouse behavior, immunohistochemistry, microscopy, polymerase chain reaction, and applied data analysis. Research volunteers are expected to attend and contribute to bimonthly lab meetings. Interested students should meet the following criteria before applying to work in the Lucas Lab: (1) Sophomore year or higher, (2) 3.3 GPA or higher, (3) willingness to commit at least 15 hours/week in the lab for at least two consecutive semesters, which may include volunteering on some nights and weekends, and (4) an understanding, respect, and acceptance of the use of live animals in research. Qualified students should submit a resume, unofficial transcript, brief statement of future career goals, and brief statement of their interest in the Lucas Lab to Dr. Lucas at elizabeth_lucas@ncsu.edu.