The United States is in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic. It is the goal of my research to uncover molecular changes that mediate opioid addiction and relapse. I utilize the behavioral model of self-administration and reinstatement in rodents to discover neural changes in both coding and non-coding RNAs. The discovery of such changes can lead to novel therapeutic options to treat addiction as well as potential biomarkers for individualized care.
In addition, the effect that widespread opioid use in one generation has on future generations is unknown. It is clear, however, that environmental exposures including diet, toxins, and drugs of abuse, do impact future progeny. Therefore, another direction of my research is aimed at determining the impact of exposure to drugs of abuse in one generation on addiction-like behaviors in subsequent generations. Moreover, we examine epigenetic alterations at the level of the gamete and the blastocyst to determine the mechanisms by which these changes are transmitted.