Bachelor of Arts, University of Southern California (2008)
Doctor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh (2015)
Robert Malenka, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Drugs of abuse elicit powerful experiences that engage populations of neurons broadly distributed throughout the brain. To determine how synaptic connectivity is organized to enable robust communication between populations of drug-activated neurons, we developed a complementary targeting system for monosynaptic rabies virus (RV) tracing that identifies direct inputs to activated versus nonactivated neuronal populations. Analysis of over 100,000 synaptic input neurons demonstrated that cocaine-activated neurons comprise selectively connected but broadly distributed corticostriatal networks. Electrophysiological assays using optogenetics to stimulate activated versus nonactivated inputs revealed stronger synapses between coactivated cortical pyramidal neurons and neurons in the dorsal striatum (DS). Repeated cocaine exposure further enhanced the connectivity specifically between drug-activated neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and coactive DS neurons. Selective chemogenetic silencing of cocaine-activated OFC neurons or their terminals in the DS disrupted behavioral sensitization, demonstrating the utility of this methodology for identifying novel circuit elements that contribute to behavioral plasticity.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.10.032
View details for PubMedID 31759807
The lateral habenula (LHb) regulates reward learning and controls the updating of reward-related information. Drugs of abuse have the capacity to hijack the cellular and neurocircuit mechanisms mediating reward learning, forming non-adaptable, compulsive behaviors geared toward obtaining illicit substances. Here, we discuss current findings demonstrating how drugs of abuse alter intrinsic and synaptic LHb neuronal function. Additionally, we discuss evidence for how drug-induced LHb alterations may affect the ability to predict reward, potentially facilitating an addiction-like state. Altogether, we combine ex vivo and in vivo results for an overview of how drugs of abuse alter LHb function and how these functional alterations affect the ability to learn and update behavioral responses to hedonic external stimuli.
View details for PubMedID 29896097
Exposure to cocaine generates silent synapses in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), whose eventual unsilencing/maturation by recruitment of calcium-permeable AMPA-type glutamate receptors (CP-AMPARs) after drug withdrawal results in profound remodeling of NAc neuro-circuits. Silent synapse-based NAc remodeling was shown to be critical for several drug-induced behaviors, but its role in acquisition and retention of the association between drug rewarding effects and drug-associated contexts has remained unclear. Here, we find that the postsynaptic proteins PSD-93, PSD-95, and SAP102 differentially regulate excitatory synapse properties in the NAc. Mice deficient for either of these scaffold proteins exhibit distinct maturation patterns of silent synapses and thus provided instructive animal models to examine the role of NAc silent synapse maturation in cocaine-conditioned place preference (CPP). Wild-type and knockout mice alike all acquired cocaine-CPP and exhibited increased levels of silent synapses after drug-context conditioning. However, the mice differed in CPP retention and CP-AMPAR incorporation. Collectively, our results indicate that CP-AMPAR-mediated maturation of silent synapses in the NAc is a signature of drug-context association, but this maturation is not required for establishing or retaining cocaine-CPP.
View details for DOI 10.15252/embj.201695465
View details for Web of Science ID 000394446700008
View details for PubMedID 28077487
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