Quick Project Snapshot
Adolescent vulnerability to addiction
Adolescence represents a unique period of vulnerability to developing drug addiction, with adolescent drug users displaying resistance to treatment and increased liability to relapse. Despite this clinical knowledge, current preclinical literature focuses on characterising drug seeking behavior during adulthood. One of the cardinal features of drug addiction is relapse, which often occurs in response to cues associated with the drug-taking experience. Thus treatment for substance abuse disorders often involves cue exposure therapy (CET), where drug-associated cues are presented in the absence of the drug reward. This treatment is based on the principle of extinction, which refers to a decrease in a response to a stimulus following repeated exposure to that stimulus without consequence. The current project aims to investigate drug-cue extinction learning in adolescent verses adult rats. Using the widely-employed preclinical model of intravenous self-administration (IVSA), adult and adolescent rats are trained to self-administer a drug of abuse, such as methamphetamine or cocaine, paired with a drug-associated cue. This cue is then extinguished in a model of CET. The project aims to characterize drug-seeking behavior during different periods of development, and to identify neural changes in the adult compared to the adolescent brain involved in drug-associated cue extinction. The project will seek to target these molecular mechanisms during cue extinction with the aim of improving behavioral outcomes for adolescent drug users.
Developmental Psychobiology Laboratory
We aim to understand the neurobiological mechanisms underlying emotional memory across development. Memory and emotion both govern so much of how we feel, think, and act – and ultimately can decide the maladaptive motivations that drive mental disorders. Brain changes that are normally involved in our development from infancy through adolescence and into maturation contribute enormously to the onset, progression, and treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and addiction. Our brain and memory also continue to change throughout ageing, hence, we are also examining ways to improve and maintain memory late in life. We will identify the mechanisms involved in pathological learning, memory, and behavior to design more effective treatment interventions. Our projects involve use of behavioural paradigms, transgenic models, and molecular/gene assays. By investigating the neural and the behavioural causes and consequences of youth susceptibility to mental health problems, and memory impairment in the aged, our lab aims to change understandings of mental health across the lifetime, and improve treatment outcomes for vulnerable populations.
All Projects by this LabAdolescent vulnerability to anxiety: a dopamine storyAdolescent vulnerability to addictionMemory, cognitive flexibility, and ageingEarly life stress and regulation of forgettingRegulation and inhibition of fear memory across development
The Division of Behavioural Neuroscience focuses on the use and development of models that reflect aspects of human disorders such as addiction, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism and neurodegenerative conditions such as Huntington’s disease. The Cognitive Neuroscience group additionally studies cognitive disorders caused by diseases such as stroke (cerebrovascular disease), Alzheimer's disease and other dementias from a clinical perspective.