This laboratory uses a multidisciplinary approach using both animal and model systems to study the biology of addiction and stress/depression. We are specifically interested in how adolescence and the hormonal changes of puberty and aging influence vulnerability to these conditions. Specific projects underway include: (1) the biology of sex differences in addictive drug action, (2) role of maturing dopamine systems in the onset of drug taking during adolescence, (3) the neurobiology of adolescent insensitivity to threat and its role in drug use.
Studies of sex differences focus on understanding estrogen and testosterone actions in the brain that are relevant to addiction, depression and stress-related behaviors. We are particularly interested in molecular targets of estrogen action including key proteins that regulate dopamine neurons and the stress peptide CRF. Current projects include the role of glucocorticoid and reproductive hormones in alcohol and opioid dependence in adolescence. Adolescent studies are exploring the impact of maturing dopamine systems as well as cortical inhibition of these systems on novelty-seeking/risk taking as predictors of substance abuse vulnerability as well as responses to addictive drugs.
In addition to these animal studies, we collaborate actively with clinicians in psychiatry who are studying addiction and stress-related illness in humans, and participate in development of drug-abuse education and general neuroscience education materials for students, parents and other members of the lay public.