This is your brain after drugs: Long-term influences on neural signals that underlie good decision-making
The goal of my research is to determine the neural mechanisms underlying learning, executive control and decision-making, and their disturbance in addiction. To accomplish this, we record neural activity from various brain regions as rats perform a variety of cognitive tasks and evaluate loss of function after prior drug exposure. I completed my dissertation work in the lab of Dr. Carl Olson in the Department of Neuroscience and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at the University of Pittsburgh in 2004. After graduating, I accepted a position as a post-doctoral fellow on the Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience Post-Doctoral Training Grant at the University of Maryland Medical School under the advisement of Dr. Geoff Schoenbaum. Currently, I am a full professor at the University of Maryland College Park in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science.
The significance of my research has been the increased understanding of basic underlying neural signals that give rise to the psychological constructs necessary to perform complex cognitive behaviors, and the elucidation of how those signals are disrupted by chronic drug self- administration. Like humans, rats with prior cocaine experience, exhibit long-term functional changes in brain and behavior leading to poor decision-making and self-control. Our work has shown that these drug-induced changes in behavior reflect impairments in brain circuits critical for making predictions about future reward (orbitofrontal cortex, insula, ventral striatum), detecting when there are violations in those predictions (dopamine) and increasing attention when decision-making needs to be adaptive (anterior cingulate cortex). While these goal-oriented systems are disrupted by prior cocaine self-administration, we have shown that neural signals related to habits are enhanced (dorsal striatum). Currently, we are examining how we can restore the system to pre-drug exposure levels via optogenetic and epigenetic manipulation.
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