Alfonso Araque is a professor in the Department of Neuroscience. His research interests focus on the mechanisms, properties and physiological consequences of the communication between neurons and astrocytes. His research seeks to understand how the communication between neurons and astrocytes affects physiological and pathological aspects of brain function. While most studies on drug addiction are focused on neuronal mechanisms, his team aims to elucidate the involvement of astrocytes in behaviors associated with reward signaling and psychostimulant drugs, which may reveal astrocytes as potential targets for treatment of motivation disorders such as drug addiction.
Ben Hayden is an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. His lab studies the role of the brain activity in making reward-based decisions, and in changing strategies in demanding circumstances. They do this with recordings of activity of populations of neurons in subjects making and adjusting simple decisions. They then compare these patterns with those obtained from subjects exposed to cocaine for long periods of times. This research contributes to a basic understanding of the brain circuitry of drug addiction.
Sarah Heilbronner is an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience. She studies the "wiring diagram" of the brain. She and her team are trying to determine how different brain regions connect with one another. She is especially interested in circuits responsible for abnormal motivation and decision-making in addiction. Heilbronner uses these connectivity studies to figure out how to translate results from humans to nonhuman animal model species, and vice versa.
Michael Kotlyar is an associate professor in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. His research focuses on evaluating various aspects of tobacco dependence including assessing medications to assist in the smoking cessation attempt and assessing the role of stress on smoking behavior.
Julia Lemos is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and member of the University’s Medical Discovery Team on Addiction. Her laboratory investigates how stress is processed and encoded in the brain. In particular, they interested in understanding how stress-associated neuropeptides regulate the function of neural circuits important for motivation and emotion in individuals with different life histories. Her laboratory also works to understand how chronic or traumatic stress renders the brain vulnerable to disease states such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Robert Meisel is a professor in the Department of Neuroscience. A key question addressed by his lab is what makes some people more vulnerable than others to the addictive effects of drugs? One idea he has been testing in an animal model of addiction vulnerability is that the converging neural plasticity of behavioral experience and drug use renders the brain more susceptible to the addictive properties of drugs.
Jessica Nielson is a neurobiologist and data scientist working at the intersection of computer science and psychiatry to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of mental health disorders that underlie addictive behaviors. She brings her expertise in neuroscience, big-data and precision medicine techniques to the group for data-driven discovery of clinically relevant models of addictive behaviors, with an interest in researching and developing novel therapies to treat the root causes of addiction.
Adjunct Associate Professor
Marco Pravetoni is an associate professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. His research interest focuses on novel and more effective treatments for substance use disorders. Dr. Pravetoni’s has developed vaccines for the treatment of heroin and prescription opioid abuse and overdose. His group is also implementing a variety of strategies to generate more effective vaccines or antibody-based therapies against drugs of abuse and other unmet medical needs such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Jocelyn Richard is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience, investigating how external cues interact with stress and negative emotional states to drive drug and alcohol seeking, even after long periods of abstinence. By measuring the activity of neurons critical for normal reward seeking, Dr. Richard can predict how intensely rats will seek out rewards like alcohol when they are exposed to environmental cues that have been previously associated with these rewards. She aims to determine what causes these neurons to be more active when animals are especially vulnerable to relapse, such as during times of intense stress or anxiety.
Benjamin Saunders is an assistant professor of neuroscience and member of the UMN Center for Addiction Neuroscience and Medical Discovery Team on Addiction. His research explores how drug-associated cues in the environment engage the brain to trigger drug use and relapse, with the goal of identifying biological pathways that can be targeted to prevent these behaviors.
Sade Spencer is an assistant professor of Pharmacology and a new MDT faculty hire. The broad goal of her research is to understand the synaptic mechanisms and neurocircuitry underlying drug addiction and comorbid neuropsychiatric diseases. More specifically, her research examines specific changes in synaptic transmission during and after drug self-administration. To accomplish this goal, her lab studies neuroadaptations and behavior in rodent models of addiction using standard approaches in protein biochemistry and behavioral pharmacology as well as incorporating novel techniques to genetically isolate specific cell types and circuits implicated in addiction.
Professor and Vice Head
Kevin Wickman is a professor and Vice Head in the Department of Pharmacology. His research program seeks to elucidate inhibitory signaling pathways that regulate the excitability of neurons in the reward circuitry. His team's recent efforts have shown that inhibitory G protein-dependent signaling pathways in the ventral tegmental area and prefrontal cortex normally serve to limit addiction-related behaviors evoked by administration of opioids and psychostimulants, but that the influence of these pathways is diminished with repeated drug exposure. They employ intracranial viral genetic and pharmacologic approaches, together with electrophysiological and behavioral analyses, to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the reciprocal relationship between inhibitory signaling pathways in the reward circuitry and drugs of abuse. The premise behind their efforts is that if endogenous inhibitory signaling pathways can be strengthened to prevent their suppression by drugs of abuse, then the risk of addiction in susceptible individuals and/or relapse in recovering addicts might be reduced or prevented.
Dr. Widge is a psychiatrist and biomedical engineer. Clinically, he provides brain stimulation treatments for mood, anxiety, and substance disorders. These include deep brain stimulation, cortical stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. His research focuses on developing these treatments further, particularly the creation of new "closed loop" devices. These devices sense brain signals in real-time and deliver energy in a planned and rational fashion, compensating for each patient's specific brain network abnormalities. Dr. Widge's laboratory prototypes new stimulation paradigms and targets in rodent models, conducts clinical trials of these new technologies, and searches for biomarkers of illness and recovery to guide next-generation therapies.
Dr. Zilverstand is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and member of the University of Minnesota's Medical Discovery Team on Addiction. Her work is focused on investigating how individual differences contribute to human drug addiction. Her research group combines the analysis of existing large-scale multimodal data sets with the acquisition of new data through a variety of techniques such as interviewing, neurocognitive testing, questionnaires and multi-modal neuroimaging. Novel computational methods are employed for linking social, demographic, neurocognitive, personality and clinical measures to the neuroimaging data, to explore the existence of neurobiological subtypes within the addicted population. The goal of this research is to develop neuroscience-derived individualized treatment for individuals who are at risk for either escalation of drug use or relapse.