Uncovering the neural substrates of polysubstance abuse

Our lab takes a systems approach to answer the question, “what are the behavioral motivations, neural substrates, and synaptic mechanisms driving the co-abuse of opiates and cocaine?”

Our laboratory is focused on elucidating the role of opioid peptides and receptors in basal ganglia circuit function and in the co-abuse of opiates and cocaine. Illicit drugs are rarely abused in isolation, a phenomenon known as polysubstance abuse.  The co-abuse of opiates and cocaine is particularly common and is associated with increased relapse, dependence, exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms, and lethality than either drug alone.  However, it isn’t clear why the majority of individuals abuse different combinations of drugs.Our laboratory is focused on elucidating the role of opioid peptides and receptors in basal ganglia circuit function and in the co-abuse of opiates and cocaine.

To address this complex question, our lab uses a combination of novel transgenic mouse lines, optogenetics, chemogenetics, ex vivo brain slice electrophysiology, and mouse models of drug taking and seeking.  Collectively, these projects aim to 1) Refine rodent models of opiate and cocaine co-abuse, 2) Identify the distinct and shared substrates and circuits underlying the abuse of opiates and cocaine, and 3) Manipulate the identified substrates and circuits to determine their contribution to opiate and cocaine co-abuse. 

Ongoing projects in the lab are currently focused on the role of the endogenous opioid system as a candidate target that facilitates the synergistic co-abuse of opiates and cocaine.