Addictions; Drug abuse; Behavioral pharmacology; Gene therapy; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Gene Expression; Neuropharmacology
My laboratory seeks to understand the neurobiology of motivation and how these systems can be "highjacked" by abused substances. Substance abuse and addiction are wide-spread problems that have an enormous economic and emotional toll. Reports indicate that it costs the US upwards to $600 billion a year to deal with the health and criminal consequences and loss of productivity from substance abuse. Despite this, there are few effective treatments to combat this illness. The brain has natural systems responsible for motivating an organism to participate in behaviors that are necessary for survival, such as eating, exercise and reproduction. These same brain regions are highly sensitive to drugs of abuse, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana. My laboratory seeks to understand how these brain regions are affected by exposure to abused drugs, and in particular how the motivation to take drugs is altered by various molecular mediators in the neurons on these regions. The two basic questions we are interested in are 1) how projections from the cortex to the striatum influence drug seeking behaviors, and 2) how neurotransmitter receptors, particularly dopamine and cannbinoid receptors in these regions influence drug seeking. Our technical approaches include a number of basic behavioral models including measurements of locomotor activity, catalepsy, conditioned place preference and drug self-administration. In order to probe the circuitry of these brain regions, we use a number of advanced molecular techniques to activate and inactivate neuronal populations including optogenetics and artificial receptors. We probe the molecular pathways within the neurons by over expressing genes or knocking down expression using RNA interference. Gene delivery is accomplished using recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) and several projects in the laboratory focus on improving this approach and exploring potential gene therapy applications for these vectors. The ultimate goal is to understand the basic neurobiology and molecular biology of addiction in order to develop more effective treatments for addiction.
Addictions; Drug abuse; Behavioral pharmacology; Cytoskeleton and cell motility; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Neurobiology; Neuropharmacology; Signal Transduction; Transcription and Translation
Drug addiction is a disabling psychiatric disease leading to enormous burdens for those afflicted, their friends and family, as well as society as a whole. Indeed, the addict will seek out and use illicit substances even in the face of severe negative financial, family and health consequences. It is believed that drugs of abuse ultimately “hijack” the reward circuitry of the CNS leading to cellular adaptations that facilitate the transition to the “addicted” state As is the case with both rodent models of drug taking, and well as throughout the global human population, not all individuals exposed to drugs of abuse will meet the classical definition of being truly “addicted”. We are looking at how molecular and behavioral plasticity mediates susceptibility to drug abuse and relapse like behaviors.
Drug abuse; Behavioral pharmacology; Signal Transduction; Neuropharmacology; Circadian Rhythm/Chronobiology
My lab‘s research seeks to understand the mechanism of action of the hormone melatonin at the MT1 and MT2 G-protein coupled receptors. We study these receptors in the brain and through the body with the goal of identifying ligands that exhibit useful binding affinity and therapeutic potential. Our team of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, technicians and senior scientists work with each other and with expert co-investigators in medicinal chemistry to discover and develop novel molecules that can mimic or counteract the actions of melatonin. These molecules may help treat a variety of diseases and conditions including insomnia, circadian sleep disorders, depression, seasonal affective disorders, and cardiovascular disease. Our laboratory pursues these investigations from several angles. We assess the localization of the melatonin receptors, examine their cellular and molecular signaling mechanisms,and investigate receptor fate following prolonged exposure to melatonin. We study the distinct roles of selective MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptor ligands in modulating circadian rhythms, methamphetamine‘s ability to induce both sensitization to prolonged exposure, and stimulation of the reward system. We also study cell proliferation, survival, and neurogenesis in the brain, and the changes in gene expression underlying all these processes. Our research ultimately aims to discover novel drugs with differential actions at the MT1 and MT2 receptors. We use molecular-based drug design, computer modeling and medicinal chemistry to design and synthesize small molecules that target these receptors as agonists, inverse agonists and/or antagonists. We then pharmacologically and functionally characterize these molecules using cell-based assays and bioassays and test them in circadian and behavioral animal models.
Drug abuse; Behavioral pharmacology; Neurobiology
I have two primary research interests. First, I use pharmacological approaches to seek novel therapeutics for pain. Pain is an agonizing symptom and disease that affects millions of people. Analgesics like opioids (e.g., OxyContin) are powerful for treating many pain conditions. However, opioids are not efficacious for some pain (e.g., neuropathic pain) and prolonged use of opioids has many side effects, including tolerance and dependence. My research has found that drugs acting on imidazoline I2 receptors may produce analgesic effects that are devoid of opioid-like side effects. I am continuing this line of research to further delineate the pharmacological properties of these drugs--how they work, how effective and safe they are, and how long the beneficial effects last--as a novel class of analgesics. Second, I am interested in pharmacotherapy of stimulant abuse. Stimulants represent a large family of abused drugs, including traditional drugs of abuse such as cocaine and methamphetamine (“meth”) and valuable pharmacotherapies such as Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulant abuse and addiction remain challenging problems that lack FDA-approved pharmacotherapies. We use powerful behavioral pharmacological approaches, in animal models that are predictive of human stimulant abuse conditions, to study novel drug targets and evaluate potential pharmacotherapeutic treatments. One unifying theme of the ongoing research in my laboratory is the application of receptor theory to the guidance and interpretation of the drug interactions in behaving animals. The long-term goal of my laboratory is to develop new analgesics for pain control and pharmacotherapeutics for stimulant addiction.
Behavioral pharmacology; Cardiac pharmacology; Ion channel kinetics and structure; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular Basis of Disease; Neurobiology; Neuropharmacology; Signal Transduction; Transgenic organisms
With over 400 genes coding for them in humans, ion channels play a significant role in most physiological functions. Drug-induced channel dysfunction often leads to a variety of disorders and results in significant incidence of serious injury and death. We investigate molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disorders and cardiac arrhythmias induced by ion channel dysfunction arising from genetic factors and/or drug interactions. The tools used for these investigations include genetic, electrophysiologic, pharmacologic, molecular and cell culturing methods. Preparations used for experiments include Drosophila as a genetic model system, and human cell lines expressing human ion channels that play an important role in critical-to-life functions including cardiac rhythm, respiration and the central nervous system.
Behavioral pharmacology; Neuropharmacology; Toxicology and Xenobiotics
Research in my laboratory centers on the study of psychoactive drugs with special emphasis on nootropics and drugs of abuse. In collaboration with Dr. Richard Rabin of this department, behavioral data are correlated with biochemical indices of drug action in an attempt to understand at the receptor level the effects in intact animals of psychoactive drugs. Behavioral data are obtained using the techniques of operant behavior with special emphasis on the phenomenon of drug-induced stimulus control. Current interests include the serotonergic basis for the actions of indoleamine and phenethylamine hallucinogens including LSD and [-]-DOM as well as their interactions with selective monoamine reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine [Prozac]. In the area of nootropics, recent studies have examined the effects of EGb 761, an extract of Ginkgo biloba; for these investigations, a delayed non-matching to position task in a radial maze is employed. Currently, studies are in progress to assess the serotonergic basis for the cognitive effects of drugs of abuse including LSD and MDMA [Ecstasy]. Behavioral pharmacology of psychoactive drugs, including psychotherapeutic agents and drugs of abuse; mechanisms of action of hallucinogens. Research in Dr. Jerrold Winter‘s laboratory seeks to understand the ways in which drugs alter behavior. Many chemicals are candidates for study but attention in the last few years has centered on hallucinogens such as LSD, phencyclidine, DOM, and ibogaine. Another area of major interest is age-related memory impairment and those natural materials, including ginseng and gingko biloba, which are purported to influence that impairment. The behavioral effects of these drugs are studied in rats trained with the techniques of operant conditioning. Specific variables in use at the present time include drug-induced stimulus control, radial maze acquisition and performance, and conditioned place preference and aversion. In addition, Dr. Winter actively collaborates with Dr. Richard Rabin of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in order to correlate behavioral effects with biochemical indices of action at the receptor level and with functional efficacies in second messenger systems.