Current Pilot Projects

The role of estrogens in the cognitive deficits resulting from methamphetamine use

Monserrat Armenta-Resendiz, Ph.D.

Addiction to methamphetamine (METH) is a serious health problem that involves significant impairments in cognitive and executive functions. Females and males differ in their response to METH use. However, there is a gap of knowledge regarding the differences associated with gender in cognitive processes and executive functions following repeated METH administration. Using electrophysiological recordings ex vivo and behavioral tasks in rats, the hypothesis that estrogens decrease dopamine concentration in the PFC, thus having a neuroprotective role ameliorating the cognitive deficits, sensitization and PFC hypoactivity produced by repeated METH administration, will be tested.

Sex-specific role of perineuronal nets in chronic METH-induced hypofrontality and cognitive deficits

Ahlem Assali, Ph.D.

Due to the exclusion of females from research and clinical studies in the past, multiple drugs used in females were inefficient or over-dosed, compared to males. This pilot project is investigating perineuronal nets(PNNs)-related mechanisms underlying methamphetamine (METH)-induced hypofrontality and cognitive deficits in both males and females. Despite the fact that females may not display an increase in PNNs density in response to chronic METH, and since PNNs formation has been linked to increased PV+FSI activity, the hypothesis that diluted ChABC to slightly digest PNNs in the female PFC could induce a partial rescue of METH-induced cognitive deficits and hypofrontality in female rats is being tested.

Investigating neural and microbiome sex differences in adolescent alcohol use

Anna Kirkland, Ph.D.

This pilot project is investigating potential neural and microbiome sex differences within binge drinking adolescents as compared to non-drinking controls. The project is building upon baseline data collected from an on-going adolescent alcohol pharmacotherapy trial (K23 AA025399) by adding a control group to analyze the sex-specific effects of heavy alcohol use. This work is significant for the adolescent alcohol use disorder (AUD) field because it will help to 1) understand SABV related neural and microbiome alterations due to heavy alcohol use, and 2) to help identify potential high-yield pharmacological treatment targets for adolescents with AUD.

Endocannabinoid dysregulation in cannabis dependence and acute cannabis withdrawal

Erin Martin, Predoctoral student

Endocannabinoids regulate several key homeostatic processes (e.g. eating, sleep, mood) that are negatively impacted in cannabis withdrawal, particularly in women. With this pilot project, we look to examine the effects of heavy cannabis use and acute cannabis withdrawal on peripheral endocannabinoid levels in both sexes, and to determine if the degree of change in endocannabinoid levels during withdrawal vs. heavy use is associated with severity of cannabis withdrawal symptom expression. Outcomes from this project can then be used to inform sex-specific pharmacotherapeutic strategies for cannabis use disorder.   

Sex specific differences in cross-sensitization between THC and heroin seeking and withdrawal

Daniela Neuhofer, Ph.D.

The current opioid epidemic highlights the need for alternative pain treatment strategies and cannabis is becoming widely legalized for medical use, including pain management. Cannabis could serve as a partial therapeutic alternative to opioids but it is not clear whether a history of chronic THC increases the risk of developing of opioid use disorder (OUD). This pilot project is utilizing a rodent model to systematically investigate 1) whether a history of THC self-administration modulates different stages of heroin intake, withdrawal and craving, 2) whether these effects of THC pre-exposure are sex-specific and 3) neuroadaptations in brain regions involved in OUD.