An introduction to my summer research project, “Adolescence as a Unique Period of Vulnerability to Environmental Stressors: Nicotine Exposure Effects on Adolescent Versus Adult Anxiety Utilizing The Light Enhanced Startle Paradigm”

Adolescence has been identified as a unique period of human development characterized by
heightened exposure to a variety of environmental and social stressors. This developmental
period is therefore also a particularly vulnerable period to the physiological effects of stress. One
stressor known to have detrimental physiological effects, and that is common in adolescents, is the
introduction of tobacco products and tobacco use.

My project will utilize a rodent model of anxiety in which the defensive behavior of rats provides
a measure of operational anxiety. The focus of my project is to explore age-dependent and sex-
dependent vulnerabilities of nicotine in rats. The effect of a single first-time exposure to nicotine on
anxiety in adolescent versus adult rats will be measured. Based on previous research I predict that
nicotine will have a stronger impact on stress and anxiety in adolescent compared to adult animals.
Sex effects will also be examined. Broader interest of the project is in whether adolescence is a
unique period of vulnerability to the effects of stress, including first exposure to nicotine.

Oliver W. Phillips