Brain Activity and Cocaine Addiction

(music playing) Dennis Sholler: My name is Dennis Sholler I am a fourth year student in the School of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Cell Biology and Neuroscience and minoring in Psychology, and currently I conduct my undergraduate research under Dr

Mark West in the Department of Psychology and we study brain activity and effective behavior in rats during cocaine self-administration Our project seeks to characterize animals based on individual addiction susceptibility and we do this by measuring two separate variables The first one is a measure of the exteroceptive cues, which is the discriminative stimulus or the context or cue that prompts drug taking in the animal or signals cocaine availability and the second is the hedonist effects that arrived from the presence of the drug itself, so the negative or positive feelings of having cocaine on board What we find is that early in sessions of cocaine self administration, animals actually rely on more heavily on the exteroceptive cues but as they gain exposure over time to the interoceptive cue, that is the drug, they actually depend more on that for responding for drug in future sessions, so while this general trend, or this general inverse relationship exists between the exteroceptive and the interoceptive cues, it actually exists as a spectrum rather than a binary, so what we see is that all animals dissociate responding from the exteroceptive cues and rely more heavily on the interoceptive cues at different times, so what we see more or less is that animals do have individual susceptibility to addiction that varies at different levels depending on how much they rely on exteroceptive or interoceptive cues for responding to cocaine All research in drug addiction and chronic drug abuse is invaluable and drug abuse is a widespread prominent problem in this country and worldwide it affects up to 20 millions of people in the world, if not in this country alone, but we still don’t know that much

The brain is still as much of an enigma as it was in the 1950s when people really began introducing techniques to study it, so if we want to characterize an illness or an ailment like drug addiction that spans behavioral, neuropharmacological and societal and social needs, we need to pinpoint some of the neural processes behind it so I think that taking both an approach in neuroscience and an approach in pharmacology to tackle drug addiction is something that should be one of our highest initiatives I have been involved in research at Rutgers through the Aresty Summer science program which is funded through the Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates and the summer after my freshman year I was paired with Dr Mark West in the Department of Psychology and I was able to complete my first independent project that studied trends in skilled operant behavior during cocaine self-administration And that acted more or less as a springboard into future projects and what is most important about this is that the Aresty Research Center kind of catalyzed a research effort for me that not only led me into other opportunities but at this point has led me into acceptance into a graduate program that ideally will lead me into a lifelong career in research So when you major in a field like cell biology and neuroscience, the course isn’t always the most exciting

Some of the things like all courses, they’re monotonous, but I think that having the opportunity to participate in research is the reason that I enjoyed my experience at Rutgers so much, because I had something I could always go back to and say okay, maybe this was a tough day but you know the end goal We have the vision and we know what’s going to come of this, so participating in research at Rutgers has always been more of an inspiration to get to the point where I want to end up rather than a chore or something else that I had to do I think that one of the most important parts of what we do in research is give back and I think that when you have the skill set to give back, you enable the other ones to move forward, so if it weren’t for my mentorship from Dr West I wouldn’t have been able to move forward so I owe it to the field to kind of instill some of those same skills that I learned along the way so that others can get to the same point or attain the same level of understanding in their field We’re lucky enough to have many centers like the Aresty Research Center that harbor those research experiences at Rutgers, so seek and you shall find and it’s very true

Don’t be afraid to send an e-mail or make a cold call because the professors are more likely than not will be thrilled at your enthusiasm and will want to bring you on board (music playing)

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