Research & Publications
Our goal is to establish an understanding of the molecular and neuronal circuits that are responsible for controlling reward-related behavior. We seek to define brain mechanisms that regulate eating and activity relevant to weight regulation and the development of obesity. We also study neural mechanisms underlying drug addiction including translational projects aimed at treatment. Moreover, we have an interest understanding the drive and motivation for physical activity as a relatively understudied but key component of body weight regulation.
Specialized Terms: Addictions; Animal Behavior; Ethology; Animal Nutrition; Diseases and Disorders; Drug Abuse; Eating Disorders; Etiology; Evolution; Genetic Manipulation; Natural History; Obesity; Psychiatry
Extensive Research Description
Broadly, our research seeks to define the molecular and neural basis of behavior. Most of the work focused on neurocircuitry underlying responses to natural rewards (i.e. food) as well as drugs of abuse. We investigate the regulation and integration of these circuits with the longer term goal of understanding their relevance in disease, as well as the role that these circuits played in evolution. It is notable that the motivation to ingest food, though highly adaptive during most of our natural history, has proven to be incompatible with the current state of excess food supply. Similar circuits likely underlie our motivation for physical activity, including exercise. Understanding the motivational systems that control feeding and activity will give us insight into the molecular mechanisms of a complex behavior, and will ultimately serve to better define the etiology of obesity and eating disorders.
Our current translational studies on opioid use disorder are focused at evaluating specific therapeutics for their mechanisms as well as their efficacy in animal models of dependence and drug seeking.
Our experiments and progress depend upon our ability to effectively monitor and manipulate neurons within the adult brain. We are active in using viral and transgenic techniques for conditional genetic analysis of neural function and behavior. The lab also leverages conditional viral approaches to evaluate activity (via fiber photometry) or to manipulate (via optogenetics) specific circuits and neuronal types during behavior.
Feeding and Eating Disorders; Ethology; Neurobiology; Obesity; Psychiatry; Exercise; Substance Abuse Detection; Natural History; Glucose Metabolism Disorders; Animal Nutrition Sciences