Welcome to the NARC!
The personal and social consequences of addictive drug use are enormous problems throughout the world, and yet we don’t yet understand how the addictive drugs change the brain in ways that make them so difficult to stop using. Depending on the drug, we currently have no or insufficient pharmacological treatments, and understanding the neurobiology of addiction is critical to designing treatments that will lessen or eliminate addiction.
This is why the primary mission of the Neurobiology of Addiction Research Center (NARC) is to identify the neurobiological basis of why an addict’s motivation to obtain drug is so difficult to control.
To this end, we have identified drug-induced impairments in how the prefrontal cortex regulates drug-seeking behavior. Specifically, the nucleus accumbens is a portal where by the prefrontal cortex can access well-learned behaviors that the addict has developed for seeking and using drugs. We find that addictive drugs change this circuit making it more difficult for the addict to control relapse. We have identified some of the underpinning molecular and cellular changes that lead to the impaired ability of the addict to regulate their drug use, and in collaboration with our clinical colleagues have successfully moved pharmacological treatments into pilot clinical trials that hold promise for treating addiction to marijuana, cocaine and cigarettes.
To explore of how addicts lose control of their drug use, we employ rat/mouse models of addiction and relapse. The use of experimental animals allows us to uncover the cellular and circuitry mediators of how addicts lose cortical control over their behavior (so called ‘top-down control’). Accordingly, we routinely examine how drug-associated cues and environments alter synaptic proteins and function, the morphology of synaptic connections, and how glia and the extracellular matrix contribute towards establishing pathological synaptic regulation of drug seeking behavior. Armed with this knowledge we have developed a variety of treatments for normalizing both the molecules and physiology of the top-down control circuit, and thereby ameliorating the pathological neurobiology and drive to seek drugs. As mentioned above, in some instances this has led to translating treatments into clinical trials.
As you explore our website, you will be introduced to some of our latest research and ideas about what causes addiction to drugs and how we might use this knowledge to cure addiction. We hope you will find our website raising your expectations that the problem of addiction is being creatively explored and that new ideas and discoveries are bringing treatments and promise for treating this destructive disease.