Ph.D. in Cellular & Clinical Neurobiology
Wayne State University School of Medicine, 2005
I am focused on the biological basis of behavior, in particular the molecular and genetic contributions. For the last 8 years my focus has been on neuropsychopharmacology and the molecular basis of drug abuse and addiction.
Although drug abuse and addiction has been studied extensively for decades, the underlying molecular mechanisms are still not well understood. Drug abuse is thought to induce long-term cellular and behavioral adaptations as a result of alterations in gene expression. With the recent sequencing of the human genome, we now have the unique opportunity to catalogue and understand the molecular consequences of drug abuse and addiction.
Until recently, the dogma of drug abuse research stated that all drugs of abuse, regardless of type, activate the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic reward pathway resulting in a flood of dopamine to the brain's pleasure center (the nucleus accumbens). This dopamine flood has been directly associated with the pleasurable feelings and reinforcing properties of drug administration.
In my previous research, we utilized human postmortem brain to examine gene expression changes that resulted from the chronic administration of cocaine and heroin - two drugs of abuse that work by very different mechanisms. Our data suggest that the profiles of nucleus accumbens gene expression associated with chronic heroin or cocaine abuse are largely unique, despite what are thought to be common effects of these drugs on dopamine neurotransmission in this brain region. This data necessitates a reexamination of our current assumptions about the commonality of molecular mechanisms associated with all abused substances.
As a new faculty member, my research agenda is in the developmental stages but now finding myself in the Midwest, I am interested in expanding my previous research beyond cocaine and heroin and into studies of methamphetamine.