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Biography

Duncan was awarded her PhD in developmental neuroscience from the University of Melbourne (2002) following which she was honored with an NHMRC CJ Martin Research Fellowship, undertaking post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School, MA, USA. This led to numerous publications on the relationship between maternal cigarette smoking and SIDS. In 2010 she was awarded a prestigious Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council and is currently investigating the effects of adolescent inhalant abuse on the maturing brain at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes, Melbourne, Australia. She has 25 publications including a recent chapter in the book Addiction Neuroethics.

Abstract

The purposeful abuse of inhalants which include toluene is prevalent in adolescent populations, posing a significant threat to the maturing brain and increasing the risk for subsequent drug use in adulthood. Our group has recently focused on the establishment of a rodent model of inhalant abuse that reflects inhalation patterns observed in humans. In our paradigm, male adolescent Wistar rats are exposed to either air or chronic intermittent toluene (CIT) at doses ranging between 3,000ppm-10,000ppm for 1 hour, 3 to 5 times a week, up to 8 weeks duration. We have subsequently employed techniques such as longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), epigenetic arrays and behavioural sensitization to investigate the long-term behavioural and pathological consequences of adolescent exposure. Using this model we have shown that CIT exposure during adolescence significantly affects growth and maturation. Using MRI we found that white matter tracts such as the anterior commissure are more susceptible to toluene than the corpus callosum. Furthermore, deficits recovered following a period of abstinence. We have also shown that exposure to inhalants under different paradigms during adolescence alters locomotor responses to other drugs of abuse such as cocaine and amphetamine when exposed in early adulthood. We have evidence to suggest that this may be in part due to glutamatergic dysfunction. Thus, our studies have significantly increased our understanding of the long-term consequences of adolescent inhalant abuse and provide insight into possible neuro-adaptive responses that may mediate subsequent complex behaviours.