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Neurobiology of Drug Addiction
My research focuses on the neurobiology underlying cocaine-seeking behavior in rats. We use a drug self-administration model in order to understand the relapse back to drug-seeking behavior. Rats undergo cocaine self-administration in which rats receive cocaine infusions for pressing a lever. After a few weeks of self-adminsitration, rats undergo extinction training in which lever presses no longer produce cocaine infusions. The rats’ lever pressing can be reinstated using triggers known to induce relapse in people. Using this model of drug-seeking, we investigate the neural systems that drive this behavior, with a particular focus on the medial prefrontal cortex. In particular, our recent work has examined how extinction training creates a neural circuit that suppresses drug-seeking and competes with the neural circuit that drives drug-seeking. It appears that divisions within the prefrontal cortex control these competing circuits and ultimately determine the behavior of the animal.