Behavioral and Pharmacological Neuroscience at Indiana University
What areas of the brain do we study?
Members of our group study a variety of structures of the forebrain and midbrain. Several experiments in our lab focus on the ventral tegmental area and the prefrontal cortex. These areas are active during reward-seeking behaviors and seem to be responsive to drug administration. We also study the basal ganglia and its related structures. The basal ganglia play a role in both movement and cognition. Our studies of the basal ganglia include work on the striatum (both dorsal striatum and accumbens), the subthalamic nucleus and the subtantia nigra. Members of our group have studied the effects of dopaminergic drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine on these structures. We are also tracking changes in the striatum, substantia nigra and prefrontal cortex in murine models of Huntington's disease.
What are the responsibilities of a research assistant?
Research assisants in our lab may take on a variety of activities depending upon their interests and the project on which they work. Tasks in our lab include constructing electrodes and other equipment, caring for animals and running animals through experiments. RAs in our lab also assist with data collection and analysis. Psychology students interested in fufilling research requirements including P493/P494, P495 and P499 may apply for positions in our lab. Undergraduates may also apply to work as paid employees.
What drugs of abuse do we study?
Our drug research focuses on stimulants, particularly those that act upon dopamine. Dopaminergic drugs include cocaine and amphetamine. We also study the stimulant drug MDMA (ectasy) that effects both dopamine and serotonin. We study these drugs to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of addiction and relapse, as well as to elucidate the function of various neurotransmitter systems.
What methods do we employ?
Our lab uses a variety of techniques to study neural activity and neural correlates of behavior. All of our experiments use animals models. Animal models allow us to study the brain at a cellular and molecular level that would not be possible using techniques that are applicable to humans participants, such as fMRI. We employ single-cell electrophysiological recording, slow and fast-scan voltammetry, iontophoresis, in-vivo microdialysis, protein ligand binding coupled with autoradiography and immunohistochemistry. In addition to analysis of single neurons, we measure coordinated activity and information exchange between neurons. These analysis tools allow us to gauge the degree to which neurons interact with one another to send synchronous output to their targets and to form local connections that facilitate information processing. We also use perievent analysis to study correlations between neuronal firing patterns and behavior.