Drug abuse during adolescence and adulthood
 Social influences on drug abuse
 Co-morbidity of drug abuse with mood and anxiety disorders
 The effects of age of drug use initiation on long term outcomes
 Emotional maturation and adolescent brain development
 Molecular and cellular mechanisms
Adolescent brain development is a very exciting and growing area of research. Of special interest is the study of the brain mechanisms of emotional perception in adolescents. Adolescents evaluate and prioritize emotional aspects of a task differently than adults. Examples of common factors responsible for many characteristic adolescence behaviors are the high value placed on their peers opinions as compared with adults, a propensity toward risk-taking or sensation-seeking behaviors, impulsivity, restlessness, boredom, dissatisfaction and a lower basal motivation. The ontogenesis of the second wave of brain development and neuronal pruning during adolescence, and more specifically the maturation of the motivational system plays a crucial role in determining emotional well-being of adulthood. Alteration of this process may in fact underlie the manifestation of many psychological diseases and syndromes including schizophrenia, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). As part of their risk-taking sensation-seeking behavior, adolescents are also more prone to self-administer drugs of abuse. In many cases, first exposure occurs during adolescence and correlates with the increased probability of developing a drug addiction. Using rodent models, the lab is currently exploring the contributions of the opioid system to the function of the emotional system during adolescence and adulthood. We are interested in the roles of specific signaling pathways in different brain areas in the maturation of emotional systems.
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