Valentina's Research

My current project in the lab has been aimed at identifying the brain regions involved and the molecular elements of the brain circuit underlying stress-induced reinstatement.
The main idea framing this project is that controlling DA cell firing by the removal of a normal brake on these neurons has a key role in reinstatement of drug-seeking. Our previous work demonstrated that both a single acute exposure to stress or to opiate drugs - both of which can trigger relapse to drug-seeking behavior in rodents - can block a specific form of synaptic plasticity (LTPGABA) of inhibitory synapses onto VTA DA neurons. Moreover, preventing this LTP prevents stress-induced relapse to drug-seeking.
In this context, I aim to identify which GABAergic afferents express LTPGABA but lose it upon acute stress, and to define the molecular elements of the circuit underlying stress-induced reinstatement.

Claire's Research

My work is based on the finding of projection-specific plasticity in the VTA. I’m particularly interested in the periaqueductal gray (PAG) as a source of both excitatory and inhibitory inputs regulating VTA excitability. Using optogenetics, animal behavior, and brain slice electrophysiology I will probe how these projections contribute to altered VTA activity and plasticity associated with aversive events, such as pain or fear.

Chelsie's Research

Midbrain regions such as the periaqueductal gray (PAG) play complex roles in receiving and integrating somatosensory input from the spinal cord—in addition to directly modulating these spinal circuits via descending inhibition and facilitation. We aim to better understand how the PAG functions in pain transmission by evaluating the function and synaptic connectivity of specific neurocircuits after injuries and inflammation. We are focusing on neuronal populations that have well-established ties to pain, such as neurons expressing the canonical capsaicin receptor TRPV1. Our ultimate goal is to further unravel the complex interplay between somatosensory pathways in the spinal cord and brain with the hopes of increasing the precision and effectiveness of pain management and therapies in the future.   

Yi's Research

Yi aims to leverage imaging techniques, slice electrophysiology, and behavioral tests to investigate the underlying mechanism of alcohol addiction and sleep disorders. Yi is interested in the role of neuropeptides including cholecystokinin (CCK) on synaptic functions in the BNST and the VTA.

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