Addictions; Behavioral Neuroscience; Brain Research; Drug Abuse; Electrophysiology; Ethanol Pharmacology; Glia - Physiology & Pathophysiology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Neurodevelopmental Disorders; Neuroscience
My research focuses on how prenatal environmental factors such as prenatal ethanol exposure and prenatal stress exposure alter various brain circuitries and how these effects lead to cognitive and behavioral deficits (impaired executive function, increased addiction risk, and anxiety) later in life. We also study how enriched postnatal environment can ameliorate these deficits. A wide array of techniques is used in my research, including cellular and system electrophysiology, immunocytochemistry, and various behavioral techniques. These techniques allow us to investigate changes in brain functions at cellular, circuitry, and behavioral levels. Our major discovery is that prenatal ethanol or prenatal stress exposure can lead to over-excitation of dopamine (DA) neurons located in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and enhance their responses to drugs of abuse andcontribute to increased addiction risk. At this time, we are also investigating how prenatal ethanol exposure leads to impaired executive function and anixety-like behavior and the underlying mechanisms. My research contributes to the understanding of brain mechanisms mediating cognitive and behaviroal deficits in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). These findings may lead to better treatment strategies of FASD.