Amy Price is a graduate student in the Neuroscience Graduate Group at the University of Pennsylvania and has been a member of the Penn FTD Center since 2011. Amy originally hails from Yellow Springs, Ohio and received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Florida. Having successfully defended her thesis this spring, Amy is now preparing for the next step in her career: in the fall of 2016, Amy will begin a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Uri Hasson at Princeton University!
Amy’s work in the Penn FTD Center has focused on the neuroscience of semantic memory—how the brain stores conceptual information about people, places, objects, and word meanings. She is particularly interested in the process of conceptual combination: how the brain combines individual entities into more complex combinations. For example, the concepts “big”, “brown”, and “dog” can be integrated to create the single representation of a “big brown dog”. This simple ability to create semantic combinations is fundamental to our ability to classify new concepts and understand increasingly complex ideas. To explore this phenomenon, Amy has used a variety of techniques that allow her to link behavior to neural anatomy, including structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and brain stimulation.
Amy’s most recent project, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Neuroscience, focused on a brain stimulation technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). tDCS is a form of neurostimulation that delivers relatively small currents to the brain by placing an array of electrodes directly onto the scalp. The application of current to a small area can alter the firing rates of brain cells and modulate neural activity. In her work, Amy used tDCS to investigate the role of the angular gyrus, a brain area with extensive connections to sensory, motor, and language areas, in conceptual combination. Amy found that stimulating the angular gyrus resulted in faster comprehension of meaningful word combinations (e.g. “tiny radish” or “plaid jacket”) but not non-meaningful word combinations (e.g. “fast blueberry” or “moss pony”). This effect was specific to the angular gyrus and was not found when other brain regions were stimulated. These results support the theory that the angular gyrus plays a causal role in conceptual combination. While Amy’s research to date has used tDCS to study semantic memory primarily in healthy adults, her findings raise the possibility that stimulating the angular gyrus could be used as a therapy for individuals with semantic deficits. To investigate this exciting clinical application, other ongoing projects in the lab are exploring the potential therapeutic benefit of brain stimulation for individuals with language difficulties due to primary progressive aphasia.
Outside of the lab, Amy enjoys “frolfing” (also know as disc golfing) at the Sedgley Woods course in Philadelphia, playing tennis, and going for bike rides along the Schuylkill River trail. She is also constantly impressed by local Philadelphia restaurants; if you are looking for a new place to dine, Amy recommends Vetri Pizza or Modo Mio!