Neurobiology and Behavior Chair Marcelo Wood and School of Medicine Professor Gary Lynch have been awarded a Multiple Primary Investigator (MPI) grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to examine epigenetic mechanisms in the brain governing drug-seeking behavior. Their team has identified a small population of neurons in an area of the brain’s reward pathway that previously received little attention in relapse behavior research. With this grant, the team will open a new door to understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of drug relapse and potentially identify novel therapeutic targets for drug abuse patients.
Professor Wood’s research focuses on understanding how epigenetics (i.e., modulation of gene expression that occurs through altered chromatin structure without fundamental changes to the DNA itself) contributes to memory, synaptic plasticity and drug-seeking behaviors. In this new MPI proposal, Professor Wood and his colleagues will investigate epigenetic mechanisms in the brain’s medial habenula (MHb) region. More specifically, they will focus on the role of the MHb in cocaine-induced reinstatement of drug-seeking behavior. The MHb is part of the brain’s endogenous reward pathway, and recent findings by Professor Wood have demonstrated that the MHb is uniquely responsive to cocaine-induced relapse-like behavior. Investigating the epigenetic mechanisms in this brain region will shed new light on how drugs of abuse change neuronal plasticity and lead to long-lasting behavioral changes, including vulnerability to relapse.