UPR Biology


Sandra Peņa

Assistant Professor

Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, 1994

Phone (787)764-0000 ext. 2712

E-mail: spena@upracd.upr.clu.edu

Fax: (787) 764-3875

Field of Interest: Molecular and Cellular Biology of Learning and Memory

Research Interests: The research in my laboratory is dedicated to the understanding of the neural basis of cognitive function and dysfunction. The research is multidisciplinary as we intend to gain understanding of the cellular and molecular events that subserve associative processes in the brain related to the acquisition and storage of information. Our work has relevance to the future treatment and prevention of neuropsychiatric illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Behavioral Neuroscience Background: We are using the holeboard spatial discrimination task as a model for associative processes related to learning, memory, motivation. This task is dependent on the hippocampus, the ventral tegmentum, and the nucleus accumbens, all structures of the limbic system. The hippocampus is the site in the brain in which declarative memory is initially stored and processed until it is transferred to long-term memory stores in the brain. The ventral tegmentum contains dopaminergic neurons that send projections to other structures in the limbic system, including the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens. An impaired function of the ventral tegmentum has been postulated for schizophrenia. Projection from the nucleus accumbens to the hippocampus are thought to contribute a motivational component to the acquisition of the holeboard search task. We are also utilizing a complex environment paradigms in which animals are placed within standard or enriched conditions immediately after weaning. The enriched environment includes toys, tunnels, and a round wheel. We are also studying molecular biological aspects of emotional memory with the fear conditioning and the conditioned taste aversion paradigms.

Molecular Neurobiology Background: Information is thought to be stored in the brain as changes in synaptic strength and structure. The activation of intracellular protein kinases, such as the cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) and protein kinase C (PKC), and the subsequent activation of the transcription factor cAMP-Responsive Element Binding Protein (CREB) are pivotal steps for the formation of long-term memory in several neural substrates, including the hippocampus and the amygdala. A main goal in our laboratory is to understand the changes in gene expression that occur during acquisition of the holeboard task. Approaches used in the laboratory to evaluate this problem include many of the conventional techniques available for analysis gene expression, such as Northen blotting and in situ hybridization.

The current areas of research in the laboratory are:

For additional information go to

Selected Publications: