Dept.: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Neuroscience Focus Group:
The primary aim of the research in my laboratory is to examine the neurobiological mechanisms of motivated behavior with a special emphasis on the long-term effects of early life drug use on learning, decision making, and drug abuse liability in adulthood. Adolescent alcohol use is a major public health concern and is strongly correlated with the development of alcohol abuse problems in adulthood. During adolescence, individuals often receive their first exposure to alcohol, and a significant proportion do so during episodes of high intake or bingeing. That such experience can be antecedent to problem drinking has been recognized for some time; that such experience may also have durable effects on decision making is a relatively recent consideration. Indeed, people who engage in binge drinking at an early age show later deficits in decision making and increased likelihood of developing alcohol abuse problems. To examine these significant issues, my approach is to use a combination of behavioral, pharmacological, computational, and neurochemical recording techniques to examine the contribution of dopamine transmission, altered by a history of adolescent alcohol exposure, to deficits in decision making and learning that may represent vulnerabilities to the development of addictive disorders. However, a comprehensive evaluation of the connection between these phenomena also requires the careful assessment of the basic science of learning and decision making and the normal functioning of the relevant neural systems.