The main projects in my lab focus on how to prevent relapse to cocaine in rats. We use conditioned place preference and drug self-administration models to determine how to diminish drug-associated memories that are thought to cause relapse behavior.
To diminish drug-associated memories, we examine the process of reconsolidation, wherein prior memories can be recalled and subsequently disrupted with appropriate pharmacological agents so that only the recalled memory is diminished. We focus on using specific pharmacological or chemogenetic agents in the prefrontal cortex to disrupt consolidation and reconsolidation of the memories associated with cocaine, thereby suppressing drug-seeking behavior and relapse.
Most recent work focuses on an extracellular matrix structure called the perineuronal net, which is important for acquiring and maintaining drug-associated memories. One function of perineuronal nets is to protect their underlying fast-spiking interneuons from oxidative stress, which is elevated by cocaine. A branch of our studies therefore examines the role of perineuronal nets in preventing oxidative stress and how sleep and/or circadian rhythms may reverse the oxidative burden that accumulates in these fast-spiking neurons during wakefulness.