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

Lindsay M. De Biase, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles
The Role of Microglial Lysosomes in Selective Neuronal Vulnerability
Synapses, the sites of signaling between neurons in the brain, play essential roles in learning, memory, and the health of neurons themselves. An enduring mystery is why some neurons are…
How the Nervous System Constructs Internal Models of the External World
As animals navigate their environments, they construct internal models of the external sensory world and use these models to guide their behavior. This ability to incorporate ongoing sensory stimuli into…
Xiaojing Gao, Ph.D., Stanford University
When Neural Circuits Meet Molecular Circuits: Quantitative Genetic Manipulation with Single-cell Consistency
Cells are the building blocks of our bodies. We get sick when the cells “misbehave”. The way modern gene therapies work is to introduce genes, fragments of DNA molecules that…
Rafiq Huda, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Conducting the Orchestra of Movement—Functional Role of Striatal Astrocytes in Health and Disease
Movement requires coordinated activity across a large brain-wide network. The striatum is a particularly important part of this circuit; it integrates motor-related information from many distinct brain regions to regulate…