Dept.: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Principal Investigator, Center for Brain Research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute
Neuroscience Focus Group:
The overall goal of my research program is to use a multi-level approach, combining molecular biology, anatomy, genetics and behavioral neuroscience, to understand the role of cortico-basal ganglia circuitry in the development of behaviors that are associated with drug reward and addiction, as well as in the processes that underlie decision-making, motivation and impulsivity. To accomplish these goals, my laboratory employs a novel chemical-genetic approach that uses viral vectors to express artificial, engineered G-protein coupled receptors (known as DREADD receptors) in discrete neuronal cell populations in rodents. Activation of DREADD receptors by the otherwise inert synthetic ligand clozapine-N-oxide will lead to transient alterations in neuronal activity (either increasing or decreasing cell function depending on which G-protein coupled DREADD receptor is expressed) of the targeted cell populations. This neuronal modulation can be paired with specific phases of the behaviors that we study, including psychostimulant-induced behavioral sensitization, drug self-administration and operant learning tasks, in order to parse out the neural circuitry that contributes to behaviors associated with addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders.