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I study the neurobiology of addiction using animal models including alcohol-preferring rodent lines, and more recently, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). I use neurochemical and pharmacological techniques to study (1) the differences in neurotransmission in specific central nervous system sites and circuits that are associated with genetic models of alcoholism and (2) the neuroadaptations in these circuits that result from drug intake and subsequent deprivation which may be associated with the initiation or maintenance of drug taking, relapse, and/or the transition from drug use to drug dependence. I also have a particular interest in adolescence and the consequences of ethanol and nicotine co-abuse in adolescence on the function of the mesocorticolimbic brain reward system and the long-range effects on drug abuse in adulthood. I am also working to develop new models of addiction using C. elegans. We have found that C. elegans show attraction and self-exposure to various drugs of abuse. Like humans, we have found that when a neutral cue in the environment is paired with a drug, and thus predicts the presence of the drug, C. elegans begin to seek out that cue – even in the absence of the drug. We are also studying how exposure to drugs during development affects responses to drugs in adulthood. We plan to take advantage of the simple and well described neurobiology of C. elegans and leverage the genetic and molecular tools available to study this organism to better understand the basic mechanisms that underlie addiction and identify new effective treatments.
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