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Neurobiology of Stress and Addiction

The Team

The main research focus of our lab is on the Neurobiology of Drug Addiction & Stress. In particular, we aim to understand the motivational factors associated with alcohol and drug use disorders, as well as the neural circuits responsible for the transition to alcohol and drug dependence. In this context, the motivational states that drive addiction may include but are not limited to prior drug exposure history of the individual, concurrent use of other drugs, high stress reactivity, and chronic pain. We are interested in identifying the points of intersection for neural circuits that contribute to the co-morbidity of neuropsychiatric conditions, especially those relevant to addiction.

The central project in the lab seeks to understand the neural mechanisms underlying excessive alcohol use in individuals that exhibit high stress reactivity, for example, in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans. Following exposure to a traumatic stressor, PTSD is a long-term pathological state defined by three clusters of symptoms that include hyperarousal, avoidance of trauma-related stimuli, and intrusive recollections that result in behavioral abnormalities and sleep disturbances. Humans with PTSD exhibit much higher rates of alcohol and drug use than the general population. Because humans with PTSD and humans with alcohol dependence exhibit similar patterns of neural dysregulation in a part of the limbic forebrain known as the extended amygdala, it is hypothesized that this circuit may serve as the neural interface for overlapping/additive effects of PTSD and alcohol dependence. We are also interested in understanding dysregulation of the neuroendocrine stress axis in these subpopulations.

Other interests in the lab include nicotine & alcohol co-dependence, and the contribution of high nociceptive states to excessive alcohol use. To answer these questions, we use a wide array of behavioral, pharmacological, cellular & molecular approaches, and we collaborate with pre-clinical and clinical labs all over the country and world.