Kaitlin (KC) Jacobson

2023 SURFiN Mentor, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kaitlin (KC) Jacobson is a second year graduate student in the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) Bioengineering program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical biomolecular engineering from GT, and was a recipient of several awards at GT, including the President’s Fellowship, Zell Miller Scholarship, National Merit Scholarship, Petit Undergraduate Research Scholarship, and has co-authored two publications. Jacobson was admitted to the graduate program as a scholar in the GT/Emory NIH T32 Computational Neuroscience Training Program, and has recently earned a Global Impact Award from the Achievement Rewards for Academic Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. She has passed her qualifying examination, and her Ph.D. research investigates the neural basis of visual processing and visual behavior in cortical areas of neurotypical versus in mouse models of autism (SFARI-funded project). She also has shown significant drive and enthusiasm for mentorship of junior students.

Principal Investigator: Bilal Haider

Fellow: Taylin Ware

Undergraduate Fellow Project:

Most individuals diagnosed with autism show impairments in responding to sensory information. It is unclear if this is only due to altered neural processing of sensory information, or if other non-sensory factors (such as impaired motivation or alertness) also contribute. Addressing this question requires careful control and measurement of behavioral responses to sensory input, along with control of non-sensory motivational factors. By performing these studies in animal models of autism, we can also directly measure neural sensory processing during the behavior. The goal of this project is to examine the influence of motivation and alertness on visually-guided behavior in a human-relevant transgenic mouse model of autism. We have developed a task where water-restricted mice report perception of a visual stimulus by licking for water reward. The stimuli are presented at different contrasts and locations to quantify behavioral performance across a range of sensory conditions, while simultaneously measuring alertness and behavioral engagement with high-speed video of the pupil. The SURFiN fellow will learn how to train our autism model, as well as wildtype mice, and test if factors of alertness and thirst motivation during the task contribute to impaired sensory perceptual behavior in our mouse model of autism.

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