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Title: Place Conditioning in Alcohol/Cocaine Studies

Description: Most theories of drug abuse and addiction are predicated in part on the assumption that most humans use, abuse, and subsequently become addicted to alcohol and other drugs because of the reinforcing and rewarding effects these substances produce (e.g., euphoria, relief from negative feelings). My primary research interest is the understanding of the neuropharmacological mechanisms underlying the effects of drugs of abuse, in other words, what’s happening in the brain while these drugs are on board. An ongoing project in the lab is looking at the role of dopamine systems in the conditioned effects of alcohol in mice. I’m also starting work on a new project looking at whether adolescent mice are affected differently by alcohol than adults are, and at the effect of alcohol exposure during adolescence on drug-seeking as adults (also using mice).

Why should we look at drunk mice? Well, the processes of conditioning (association of environmental cues and drug effects) are thought to be extremely important in craving and relapse in humans, and while alcohol is used by a large proportion of people in our society, the neural effects of alcohol are quite complex and not fully understood.

Finally, over the next couple of years I’ll be setting up electrochemistry equipment to assess genetically determined differences and drug-induced changes in brain neurochemistry in mice and rats. This will be particularly exciting in conjunction with the adolescent work, since we will be able to actually measure how various proteins work at different times during brain development.

Faculty: Shelly Dickinson, Psychology

Helpful background: Introductory Psych