Catharine Rankin

Department of Psychology
Small Neural Systems Group

Phone: 604 822-5449

Web pages:
Lab webpage


  • B.A., Psychology (Guelph)
  • M.A., Experimental Psychology (Guelph)†
  • Ph.D., Biopsychology (CUNY)


  • Learning and Memory
  • Activity Dependent Plasticity
  • Fetal alchohol syndrome
  • C. elegans

Overall Research Goals:

  • †To further understand the mechanisms underlying learning and memory at the genetic, synaptic, neural circuit, and behavioural levels.
  • To further determine the contribution of genetic mutation to neuropsychiatric diseases including Schizophrenia, Parkinsonís Disease, and Alzheimerís in order to better understand their pathology.
  • To determine the influence of early life experience on adult behavior and morphology, especially exposure to ethanol.

Primary Research Techniques:

  • Automated behavioral characterization of Caenorhabditis Elegans (C. elegans) using the Multi-worm tracker
  • Genetic knock-out and targeted genetic rescue C. elegans models
  • Confocal and Fluorescence microscopy
  • Optogenetics

The Rankin lab was the first to study the mechanisms underlying learning memory using C. elegans. We focus on a simple form of learning called habituation. Organisms do not have enough processing capacity to give equal attention to every sensory input they receive, so they must be able to filter out, or ignore some stimuli. Habituation is this filtration process (for review see,).

Habituation has been seen in all organisms, from single-celled paramecium to humans. More importantly, abnormal habituation is seen in a number of Neuropsychiatric Disorders including Schizophrenia and Parkinsonís Disease. Despite its apparent simplicity, itís importance for survival, and its prevalent malfunction in disease, remarkably little is known about the mechanisms of habituation.

C. elegansí transparency, sequenced genome, and defined connectome make it an ideal organism for dissection of the processes underlying learning and memory. Combining these unique advantages with a well-defined and short life cycle makes C. elegans equally ideal for studies of experience and development.

In general, findings from our lab have shown C. elegans displays remarkable behavioural and neural plasticity, and that the processes underlying this plasticity are highly conserved in mammals. Moving forward, we are working to better understand the role of genes in habituation in order shed light on the genetic underpinnings of Schizophrenia, Parkinsonís disease, and Alzheimerís.

**We are currently recruiting graduate students or postdoctoral fellows with projects available for Parkinsonís Disease and Alzheimerís Disease. For more information contact Dr. Catharine Rankin**

Selected Publications

Rankin, CH, Abrams,T., Barry, RJ., Bhatnagar,S. Clayton, D., Colombo,J., Coppola,G., Geyer,MA., Glanzman, DL. Marsland, S., McSweeney,F., Wilson,DA., Wu, CF., and Thompson, RF (2008) Habituation Revisited: An Updated and Revised Description of the Behavioral Characteristics of Habituation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 92, 135-138

Giles, A.C. and Rankin, C.H. (2008) Behavioral and Genetic Characterization of Habituation using Caenorhabditis elegans. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 92, 139-146.

Taghibiglou C., Martin, H. S., Rose, J. K., Ivanova, N., Lin, C., Lau, H. L., Rai, S., Wang, Y. T., & Rankin, C. H. (2009) Essential role of SBP-1 activation in oxygen deprivation induced lipid accumulation and increase in body width/length ratio in Caenorhabditis elegans. FEBS Letters, 583; 831-834.

Ardiel, E.L. & Rankin, C.H. (2010) The importance of touch in development. Paediatrics & Child Health, 15: 153-156.

Ardiel, E.L. & Rankin, C.H. (2010) An Elegant Mind: Leaning and Memory in C. elegans. Learning and Memory 17: 191-201

Ardiel EL, Rankin CH. (2009) C. elegans: social interactions in a "nonsocial" animal. Adv Genet; 68:1-22.

Timbers, T.A. and Rankin, C.H. (2011). Tap withdrawal interneurons require CREB for Long-Term Memory for Habituation Training in Caenorhabditis elegans. Behavioral Neuroscience. Epub 2011 June 11.

Swierczek, N*.,† Giles, A*, Rankin CH and Kerr R, (2011) High-throughout behavioral analysis in C. elegans, Nature Methods Jun 5;8(7):592-8 (*both authors contributed equally).

Timbers, TA, Giles, AC, Ardiel, EA, Kerr, (2013) Intensity discrimination deficits cause habituation changes in middle-aged C. elegans, Neurobiology of Aging 34(2):621-31

Lin, HSC,† Sa, S., Chand, J. and Rankin, CH (2013) Dynamic and persistent effects of ethanol exposure on development: an in vivo analysis during and after embryonic ethanol exposure in C. elegans Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37 Suppl 1:E190-8 doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01856.x.

Lau, HL, Timbers, TA, McEwan,AH, and Bozorgmehr, T. and Rankin CH (2013) Genetic Dissection of Memory for Associative and Non-Associative Learning in C. elegans. Genes, Brain and Behavior. 12(2):210-23.

Li, C. , Rose, J., Timbers, T.A., McEwan, A, Bozorgmehr, T. & Rankin, C. H. (2013) Memory Produced by Massed Training Depends on Presynaptic FMRF-amide Expression.† Learning and Memory 20(2):103-8.

Bozorgmehr, T. Ardiel, E.A. and Rankin, C.H. (2013) Mechanosensory Plasticity in C. elegans.† Frontiers of Physiology doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00088.

MacDiarmid, T., Ardiel, EA, and Rankin C.H. (2014) Neuropeptides and learning in C. elegans.† Current Opinion in Behavioral Science (in press)

Courses taught

PSYC 101 & PSYC 363