Psychology Thesis Award Winner Honored for Serotonin Deficiency Research

Allison Warner '22 MS presents at the Graduate Research Symposium
Allison Warner '22 MS

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The Villanova University Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences is pleased to announce Allison Warner '22 MS as this year's Ingeborg L. and O. Byron Ward Outstanding Thesis Award winner. This award honors one Psychology master's student each year for a particularly excellent thesis and thesis project. The criteria for nomination and selection of the winner are:

  • Quality, creativity and scientific merit of the thesis project
  • Scope of student contribution to the project
  • Quality of the written product
  • Quality of the thesis seminar presentation

Warner conducted her thesis project, "The Effects of Brain Serotonin Deficiency on Antidepressant- and Anxiolytic-like Responses to Cardiovascular Exercise in Females", under the direction of Benjamin Sachs, PhD. Warner presented her work at the 2021 Graduate Research Symposium for students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Allison is a great student, and her thesis came together wonderfully. She is very interested in trying to improve outcomes for individuals with mental illness, which are notoriously difficult to treat with existing drugs," said Dr. Sachs. "Allison’s thesis tested whether exercise could be an effective alternative to Prozac in mice with low brain serotonin, which we have previously shown are resistant to Prozac treatment. Her results showed that mice with low serotonin did exhibit some antidepressant-like responses to exercise, but the effects were not as strong as those observed in neurochemically typical animals. This suggests that exercise might be more effective than Prozac in individuals with serotonin deficiency, but it also highlights the need to continue to improve treatment options for individuals with low levels of brain serotonin, as they will likely exhibit blunted responses to both exercise and antidepressants."

Warner is currently a first-year Clinical Psychology PhD student in the Mindfulness, Stress & Health Lab at Rowan University.

Added Dr. Sachs, "Her work inspired several of the current students in my lab to spend the past year trying to figure out what exercise is doing (and not doing) in the brains of serotonin-deficient animals that leads to this partial antidepressant-like response. I’m looking forward to working with Allison and my current team to try to publish these results in the next year."

Allison Warner, Psychology - Graduate Research Symposium

Serotonin Deficiency Reduces the Magnitude of Antidepressant and Anxiolytic Behavioral Effects of Cardiovascular Exercise


About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

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