Joint Appointment: Department of Biology
Our laboratory integrates the fields of developmental psychobiology, psychopharmacology, and neurochemistry by investigating the neurobehavioral effects of drugs of abuse in developing rats. Human recreational drug use peaks during the developmental stage of adolescence, making experimental research on the mechanisms and consequences of adolescent drug intake particularly relevant.
In order to examine the acute and long-term effects of drug exposure during various stages of postnatal development, we use operant behavior models such as intravenous or oral drug self-administration, in conjunction with neurochemical assays such as in vivo microdialysis and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Of particular focus are interactions between dopamine and serotonin in the mesocorticolimbic pathways that underlie drug-induced behavioral stimulation and reinforcement. Drugs of interest are the psychomotor stimulant class, including cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), nicotine, and caffeine. Additional comparisons include differential drug effects between genders. The overall goal is to explore the ontological development of reinforcement, as well as the social and physiological factors influencing drug use and effects in developing rats.
I am also active in science education and outreach. In concert with the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, we aim to reinforce science education in Atlanta area schools by bringing kindergarten through 12th grade students and their teachers into laboratories and science museums for hands-on experience with scientific experiments and exhibits. We also hope to aid in community development by increasing science awareness in the Atlanta general public. Participating universities include Clark Atlanta, Emory, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spelman. Local museums such as SciTrek and Fernbank are also involved. The new Atlanta aquarium, scheduled to open in 2005, will provide another fantastic educational venue for our programs.