Quick Project Snapshot
Adolescent vulnerability to anxiety: a dopamine story
Anxiety disorders are a major worldwide public health concern, with ~1 in 4 Australians suffering from a clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder at least once in their lifetime. While these disorders can affect people of all ages, adolescence represents a particularly vulnerable period for onset. Our lab aims to characterize the neurobiological factors that underlie this age-related vulnerability, in order to assist in the development of more effective therapeutic interventions for young people. The most commonly used preclinical model for studying anxiety disorders in rodents is a fear conditioning paradigm. Using this model, we have shown that inhibition of learned fear, known as extinction, is less effective in postnatal day (P)35 (adolescent) compared to P70 (adult) rats due to maturational differences in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This difference may be due to the disrupted balance of dopamine receptor 1 (DR1) vs 2 (DR2) signaling during adolescence, however this has yet to be directly demonstrated. The aim of this project is to investigate potential age-related differences in the activation of D1R vs D2R in the PFC of adult vs adolescent mice following extinction. This project employs mice that express green fluorescent protein-(GFP) tagged D1R and D2R, as well as Fos/GFP immunohistochemistry to identify activated D1R and D2R neurons. This project will also examine the effect of the D2 partial agonist Aripiprazole on extinction consolidation and D1R/D2R activation in the PFC.
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.