Research Focus: Behavioral Neuroscience
The ability to learn about rewards – when and where to expect them, for example, or what to do to get them – is a crucial adaptive capacity that humans and higher animals possess. Furthermore, reward-related learning is implicated in pathologies of motivational processes such as those underlying drug addiction (for example: opioids such as heroin and fentanyl and psychostimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine). Our research is focused on the neural, behavioral and environmental mechanisms underlying reward-related learning, motivation and drug addiction. In our research we use sophisticated neuroscience and behavioral paradigms with rat models to discover the neural circuits and behavioral/environmental mechanisms involved in these behaviors. Some examples of neuroscience techniques we use include neuropsychopharmacology (intracranial chemical delivery), immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization (and others) to investigate how brain manipulations affect goal-directed behavior at various stages of goal-directed behavior and or drug addiction cycles or how specific behaviors affect brain function. Examples of behavioral paradigms we use are operant (e.g., intravenous opioid self-administration) and classical conditioning (e.g., conditioned place preference). The aim of this research is to enhance our understanding of the relation between brain and goal-directed behavior and to facilitate the development of treatments for drug addiction.