Session B: 10:45AM – 12:15PM

Health and Medicine. Session B – Oral Presentations, Saltair, Union

SESSION B (10:45AM – 12:15PM)
Location: Saltair,  A. Ray Olpin University Union


Varying Mechanisms of Apoptosis Caused by Vpr Polymorphisms in HIV-1
Amanda Carlson, Brigham Young University

Faculty Mentor Brad Berges, Brigham Young University

SESSION B 10:45-11:00AM
Saltair, Union
Health and Medicine

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  Although it is one of the most studied viruses, no completely effective treatment or vaccine exists.  Viral protein R (Vpr) is a multifunctional accessory protein that plays an important role in pathogenesis and replication in HIV, and it is believed to be a potential target for therapeutic intervention.  Polymorphisms of Vpr have been shown to relate to dramatic variations in the development rate of AIDS.  The Vpr mutants R36W and R77Q are associated with Rapid Progressor (RP) and Long Term Non Progressor (LTNP) phenotypes, respectively.  Regular AIDS onset is 5-7 years for wild type (WT) virus, 3-5 years for patients with the RP Vpr mutant, and 10 or more years for the LTNP mutant. We have successfully shown that R36W enhances the ability for HIV to replicate, and it primarily relies on necrotic, highly inflammatory pathways for cell death.  R77Q activates G2 cell cycle arrest more efficiently followed by apoptosis, a death mechanism with less inflammation.  While the molecular mechanism of Vpr-induced apoptosis is known, it is not yet determined why point mutations in Vpr are changing apoptosis levels. HIV progresses into AIDS by depleting CD4+ helper T cells via chronic immune activation and inflammation, so we started investigating the mechanisms by which the Vpr mutants change apoptosis levels by looking at release of inflammatory cytokines.  We choose to quantify levels of IL-6, IL-10, IL-1β, TNF-α, and Type 1 IFN-α through a cytometric bead array.  We saw that R77Q under-expresses pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6 and TNF-α, compared to WT and R36W.  We also saw that R77Q has significantly higher expression of IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine, compared to R36W.  These results match our predictions and show that Vpr polymorphisms are related to inflammatory cytokines and immune activation. Functions of Vpr come from binding and modifying cellular proteins and enzymes.  We will continue researching what molecular interactions change between Vpr mutants to better understand shifts in apoptosis levels.  Vpr can be found intracellularly in the nucleus, cytoplasm, and mitochondria and extracellularly in secreted proteins and within virions.  We plan to execute an experiment determining where Vpr is most concentrated by isolating these intracellular and extracellular components individually and using Western Blots to analyze the proteins contained in the samples.  We hypothesize that differences in Vpr concentrations exist among Vpr mutants both intracellularly and extracellularly.  Since bystander cells not infected by HIV were also found to be apoptotic, we also hypothesize that extracellular, secreted Vpr could be inducing this phenomenon.  Through these experiments, we aim to discover more about the role Vpr plays in cell death by apoptosis and contribute to the existing literature exploring the importance of Vpr.


The Effects of Probiotics on Group B Streptococcus (GBS) Rates in Pregnant Women
Tennessee Reed, Utah Valley University
Jake Reed, Utah Valley University
Robert Taylor Eakins, Utah Valley University

Faculty Mentor Michaela  Gazdik Stofer, Utah Valley University

SESSION B 11:05-11:20AM
Saltair, Union
Health and Medicine

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterial species commonly found in the vaginal tract of  ~40% of pregnant women (Ho et al., 2016). GBS positive women are not sick, but can pass the bacteria to the infant during birth leading to possible complications for the child. GBS infection in the infant can lead to an increased risk of the infant developing sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, and in some cases death (Ho et al., 2016). Pregnant women are tested for GBS using a vaginal swab when they are 36 weeks pregnant. According to CDC guidelines, patients who are GBS positive will be administered antibiotics 4 hours prior to delivery. Pre- and intrapartum antibiotics can adversely affect the development of the infant’s immune system resulting in an increased risk for allergies, asthma, obesity, and eczema (Lamont et al., 2020). A hypothesized solution to combat GBS colonization in pregnant women is the use of taking probiotics prophylactically to prevent GBS from colonizing, and/or eliminating GBS after it has infected the vaginal tract. There have been few (<7) clinical trials done on the effects of probiotics on GBS, with only two taking place in the United States (Aziz et al., 2018; Hanson et al., 2014). We hypothesize that if pregnant women take a probiotic every day beginning at week 28, they will have a decreased likelihood of contracting GBS. We have currently enrolled 9 pregnant women to participate in our study and are actively collecting data to address our hypothesis. Participants take a vaginal swab at week 28 to test for the presence of GBS. At that point probiotics are given to participants and one capsule will be taken daily until the end of their pregnancy. At 36/37 weeks of pregnancy, the patient’s provider will perform another vaginal swab to test for GBS.



Knowledge, attitudes, and practices of college athletes regarding pain management in sports injuries
Maren Clark, Utah Valley University

Faculty Mentor Heather Thiesset, Utah Valley University

SESSION B 11:25-11:40AM
Saltair, Union
Health and Medicine

Misuse of opioids has reached epidemic proportions nationwide. Opioids can be essential when treating pain and helpful when administered by a doctor in small doses for a short amount of time. A lack of following these criteria can lead to opioid dependence, addiction and often overdose. Utah has continually held the title for the highest index category for opioid usage for over a decade. While rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drug use are historically low, opioid misuse in Utah is becoming increasingly alarming. Despite official efforts to create interventions, campaigns, anti-opioid marketing, and prescription take back programs, the numbers continue to rise. Our study at Utah Valley University was a descriptive cross-sectional survey. The purpose was to assess attitudes, perceptions and self-reported practices of pain management following injuries incurred as an athlete. The Likert scale questionnaire given to student athletes asked questions regarding student’s mental health in addition to their use of opioids to manage pain. Descriptive statistics were calculated on categorical variables, results from the survey compared differences in attitudes, perceptions, and practices by sex, age, and student status. Students often lacked information on alternatives to opioids in their pain management needs. Furthermore, survey results showed that there is room for educational interventions to ensure that injuries sustained in their athletic careers do not become life-long catalysts for chronic pain and addiction.



Infertility in POMC Deficient Mice
Andrew Geddes, Utah Valley University

Faculty Mentor Zoe Thompson, Utah Valley University

SESSION B 11:45-12:00PM
Saltair, Union
Health and Medicine

The pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene is expressed in the hypothalamus and pituitary and its product is cleaved into several peptides including the melanocyte stimulating hormones (α, β, or γ-MSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and beta-endorphin. Alpha-MSH is involved in regulating appetite, sexual behavior, and melanin, while ACTH regulates secretion of glucocorticoids from the adrenal cortex. Humans who have a POMC mutation either produce an abnormally short version of POMC or are missing the protein completely and therefore lack these hormones. This has biological consequences including red hair and fair skin, early-onset obesity (due to severe hyperphagia), hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, and potentially infertility. We are interested in studying the infertility through a mouse model of hypothalamic POMC-deficiency. These mice also experience early-onset obesity and infertility. The testes and epididymides of these mice have been sliced and stained with hematoxylin and eosin, and then fixed to a slide. These slides will be placed under a microscope and imaged at 4x, 10x and 40x to determine the amount and condition of germ cells, somatic cells, and sperm. Some potential issues that could be identified through histology are tubular degeneration or atrophy, which causes shrinkage of the testis and loss of germ cells due to reduced testosterone and sperm levels. There may also be a disrupted blood-testes barrier due to obesity, which decreases the motility of the sperm. The results from this study will help us understand the causes of infertility in POMC-deficient mice, which may also lead to greater understanding on how to treat humans with infertility due to a POMC mutation.


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Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research 2023 - Program Copyright © 2023 by Office of Undergraduate Research is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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