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Adolescent vulnerability to addiction - gene & behaviour in rodents and humans

Adolescence represents a unique period of vulnerability to developing drug addiction, with adolescent drug users displaying resistance to treatment and increased liability to relapse.

Aims

We have several projects aiming to investigate drug-cue extinction learning, and underlying gene expression in adolescent and adult rodents and humans. The project will seek to target these molecular mechanisms during cue extinction with the aim of improving behavioral outcomes for adolescent drug users.

Despite this clinical knowledge, current preclinical literature focuses on characterising drug seeking behavior during adulthood. One of the cardinal features of drug addiction is relapse, which often occurs in response to cues associated with the drug-taking experience. Thus treatment for substance abuse disorders often involves cue exposure therapy (CET), where drug-associated cues are presented in the absence of the drug reward.

This treatment is based on the principle of extinction, which refers to a decrease in a response to a stimulus following repeated exposure to that stimulus without consequence. Viral delivery of gene editing tools such as CRISPR is also used in rodents to infer causality of gene expression effect on behaviour. We are currently focussing on methamphetamine (aka ‘ice’) users.

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