We are currently addressing fundamental questions in neurobiology that have direct relevance for human disease. For instance, how do genes interact with the environment to shape circuit function and behavior in neurological disorders and how can we harness that knowledge to develop more effective treatments? In light of its complex role in human psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, the lab is currently investigating how environmental factors like stress, alcohol, and the use of antidepressant drugs can alter serotonin neurons in the dorsal raphe and their efferent projections to stress and reward processing centers in the brain. Some of the questions we are asking include:
• How does chronic alcohol use modulate the activity of serotonin (5-HT) circuits in the dorsal raphe?
• What is the role of microglia in altered 5-HT circuit function after chronic alcohol?
• Which specific serotonergic neuronal ensembles 5-HT drive anxiety-like behaviors and reward deficits during alcohol withdrawal? What are the genetic signatures that define these neuronal populations?
• How does serotonin alter dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens in alcohol dependence?
• What are the epigenetic mechanisms of alcohol-induced neuroplasticity in serotonin circuits?