Linking Cell Type to Disease: Mapping Gene Expression and Neural Activity in Pathological Reward Processing

2020 Seed Grant
Emily L. Sylwestrak, Ph.D.
University of Oregon

Women’s Council Seed Grant

Survival often hinges on learning how to avoid threats and how to obtain “rewards”, such as food, water, and mating opportunity. The brain has evolved to quickly learn what actions lead to a reward, increasing the motivational drive to perform those actions and generating a perceived pleasure when obtaining the reward. The neural pathways that drive reward learning can be hijacked by drugs of abuse, often by acting on very specific cells. For example, morphine acts directly on only about 2% of neurons in the brain, but it has a devastatingly powerful effect on behavior in addiction. Our research looks at function of different types of neurons as animals seek out rewards in the environment and how that changes in addiction. We look at both neurons that are directly or indirectly modulated by opiates and try to understand how their firing patterns change during chronic morphine, addiction, and withdrawal. This work will help us understand how different types of neurons control reward seeking, why some have an outsized role in addiction, and how we could better target treatments to the most relevant cell types.

Other Grants

Rebekah C. Evans, Ph.D., Georgetown University
In Vivo and Ex Vivo Dissection of Midbrain Neuron Activity During Exercise
Exercise is important for the health of the body and the mind. Exercise promotes learning and reduces symptoms of brain-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it…
William J. Giardino, Ph.D. Stanford University
Deciphering the Neuropeptide Circuitry of Emotional Arousal in Narcolepsy
This research project aims to investigate the neural mechanisms of a specific type of brain cell called neuropeptide neurons within a region of the brain’s amygdala network called the bed…
Howard Gritton, Ph.D., University of Illinois
Attention Mechanisms Contributing to Auditory Spatial Processing.
Our world is composed of a rich mixture of sounds. We often process sounds including speech in the presence of many other competing auditory stimuli (e.g., voices in a crowded…
Nora Kory, Ph.D., Harvard University
Elucidating the Fates and Functions of Lactate in the Brain
The human brain requires significant energy to function. Despite accounting for only 2% of our body weight, the brain consumes a substantial 20% of the body’s energy, relying on a…