My research investigates the neural mechanisms that are involved in drug dependence, primarily focusing on cocaine and nicotine. One of our research objectives is to understand the role of dopamine and serotonin (5-HT) neurotransmitter systems in modulating motivation for cocaine using a rodent model of drug self-administration. In addition, we investigate molecular changes that occur in the rat brain during drug self-administration and withdrawal using a variety of neurochemical and genetic techniques. Our most recent interest is to investigate the influence of social interaction on drug reward and dependence. We have demonstrated that adolescent rats, like humans, find nicotine and cocaine more rewarding when experienced with companions. Conversely, if a rat has already established a habit of cocaine self-administration, we have found that social interaction and other alternative rewards, such as exercise and exposure to novelty, can help to reduce motivation for cocaine. We are now investigating the underlying neural mechanisms involved in these effects.
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