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 prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. These structures are active during reward-seeking behaviors and are responsive to administration of drugs of abuse. We also study the structures of the basal ganglia, especially the striatum, which integrates information from all areas of cerebral cortex and processes it for behavioral output. The basal ganglia are an important part of the neural circuitry underlying both movement and cognition.
What are the responsibilities of a research assistant?
Research assistants may take on a variety of activities depending upon their interests and the project on which they work. Tasks include constructing electrodes and other equipment, conducting experiments, and assisting with data collection and analysis. Neuroscience, Psychology, Biology, or Chemistry students interested in fulfilling research requirements may apply for positions.
What drugs of abuse do we study?
Our drug research focuses on stimulants, particularly those that act on the dopamine transmitter system. We study these drugs to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of addiction and relapse as well as to elucidate the function of dopamine and its interaction with other transmitter systems.
What methods do we use?
We use a variety of techniques to study neural activity and the neural correlates of behavior in animal models. These models allow us to study the brain at a cellular and molecular level that would not be possible using techniques that are applicable to human participants. We record the electrophysiological activity of single cells (extracellular spike trains) and neural populations (local field potentials) in order to assess the degree of information exchange between individual neurons and between brain structures. 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. Peri-event analysis allows us to study correlations between neuronal firing patterns and behavior.
We use slow and fast-scan voltammetry to measure real-time changes in the release of dopamine and other easily oxidized compounds. This procedure is often used in combination with immunoblotting to assess protein expression. Genotyping is used in our studies of Huntington’s disease.