Student Spotlight: MaKenna Cealie

Oct. 18, 2022
MaKenna Cealie has dark hair and a smile. She is wearing a black sweater over a light pink shirt with a delicate necklace.
MaKenna Cealie

MaKenna Cealie is a fourth year in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD). Cealie graduated from Colgate University with a B.A. in Neuroscience and a minor in Anthropology. Cealie is currently working in the lab of Ania Majewska, Ph.D., where her research takes a cellular approach to understanding the affected mechanisms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recently awarded Cealie an F31 for her project titled “Effects of Developmental Ethanol Exposure on Cerebellar Microglia and Purkinje Cells.” This work will use two-photon, in vivo imaging to examine microglia dynamics and their interactions with Purkinje cells after developmental ethanol exposure.

“This work is moving to the cerebellum, which is a relatively understudied area affected by FASD,” Cealie said. “I thought that would be a great place to look using a model I’m familiar with from my previous study published in 2021. A big difference is we’re increasing the period of alcohol exposure, which more accurately models human FASD.”

Cealie co-authored a paper in Journal of Neuroscience Research that suggests that two of the brain’s support cell types – astrocytes and microglia – may be particularly sensitive to alcohol. She and her co-workers found these cell types rapidly undergo subtle changes in response to a single exposure to alcohol early in brain development.

Science has fascinated Cealie since a young age. “I have always enjoyed learning new things. There is still so much to discover about the brain. That is what drew me to neuroscience, a field I have been interested in since high school, and the research I was able to do in undergrad solidified that I wanted to pursue graduate school.”

Cealie also holds various leadership roles outside the lab, which include treasurer of the Graduate Student Society (GSS) at SMD, and a graduate community assistant in graduate housing.