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About Us

Our research explores the neurobiological basis of addiction (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana) and mood/anxiety disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD). We use state-of-the- art brain imaging technologies Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to investigate certain receptors in the brain and neural mechanisms that are thought to underlie these disorders.

Taking part in our research will improve our understanding of addiction and mood disorders so that they can be treated more effectively in the future.

We are continuously recruiting volunteers to participate in our imaging studies. Each study has different requirements. We are looking for people with depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD. We are also recruiting individuals who smoke tobacco, use alcohol or marijuana, or use e-cigarettes/vape. We also recruit individuals who are healthy to act as a comparison group. Click here for more information on our criteria.


  • Smoking

    Professor of Psychiatry and of Neuroscience and of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging

    Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of cause of disease, disability and death in the US. It also causes a huge socioeconomic burden. Tobacco contains the addictive drug nicotine. We aim to further understand the effects of smoking on the brain using PET imaging. We are also interested in the effects of e-cigarettes on the brain, which are largely unknown. Our goal is to improve our understanding of tobacco smoking addiction so that more effective treatment and preventative strategies can be developed.

  • Mood Disorders

    Associate Professor of Psychiatry; Director, Molecular Imaging Program, NCPTSD, VA; Director, Mood, Anxiety, and Cognitive Sciences Division

    Irina Esterlis is a clinical neuropsychologist and neuroreceptor imager with extensive training in the application of SPECT and PET to the study of mental illness and comorbid disorders. Dr. Esterlis has developed two novel paradigms to interrogate both the acetylcholine and glutamatergic systems in vivo in human, and these are being currently applied to the study of mood and addiction disorders. She has received awards from Society of Nuclear Medicine, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Esterlis' current work includes the study of the metabotropic glutamatergic receptor involvement in bipolar depression and suicide, as well as the effects of depression on synaptic aging. Dr. Esterlis is also initiating new work in the study of neurotransmitter alterations in adolescent depression and suicidality.