What We Do:
The Behavioral and Cognitive Science Research Branch (BCSRB) supports research on the neurobiological and behavioral processes underlying addictive behaviors and the substrates or mechanisms involved in the behavioral effects produced by drugs of abuse. Translational research, for example the development of laboratory-based interventions –- pharmacological, environmental or behavioral -- which may ultimately be used for reducing or eliminating drug-taking behavior, is an area of interest. More...
Examples of target areas in the basic behavioral and cognitive sciences, important to the study of vulnerability, addiction, and the acute or long-term consequences of drug abuse:
- Interaction of pain and motivational systems and the mechanism of treatments for pain that have reduced liability for abuse.
- Cognitive processes (learning and memory, information processing, attention, inhibition, perception, and problem solving), including studies on decision making and risk taking.
- Social variables (dominance hierarchies, aggression and affiliation, nurturing, play, social facilitation).
- Environmental influences (conditioned associations, reinforcement history, housing conditions, handling, stress, and parenting).
- Biological bases of drug-induced and drug-directed behaviors (including neuroplasticity at the systems level); substrates for motivation, cognition, social behavior, learning, memory, stress.
- Use of on naturalistic behaviors for the study of behavioral dysregulation.
- Behavioral signatures of drug-induced neuroadaption (e.g., tolerance, sensitization, cross-tolerance and cross-sensitization, withdrawal),.
- Behavior change models (self-control, incentive motivation, environmental contingencies).
- Animal behavioral models of HIV-AIDS to study effects of disease on cognitive, emotional and motivational processes, and interactions with drug taking behavior or drug consequences.
- Developmental processes (cognition, learning and memory, perception, social behavior); especially during the adolescent period.
- Individual differences in vulnerability across all phases of abuse and addiction, including response to potential interventions; (behavioral or neurobiological phenotypes in drug reactivity, response to novelty, reward sensitivity, etc).
Examples of underrepresented areas of particular interest include:
- Interactive designs to examine the influence of intrinsic variables (genetic, drug history or drug withdrawal, neurobiological variation) x extrinsic variables (rearing environment, enrichment, social interaction, drug availability or schedule).
- Determine the sensitivity for response to therapeutic intervention; identify sensitive or malleable periods in the time course for development of addiction and after drug cessation.
- New models for assessing hedonic, euphoragenic or reinforcing drug effects (e.g., affective continuum, species-specific vocalizations).
- High throughput behavioral screening that can quantify changes in central motivational or emotional state.
- Behavioral choice (behavioral economics theory, alternative reinforcers, multiple-choice test systems), including the study of interaction between cognitive processes, associative mechanisms and emotion in drug-seeking and behavior choice.
- Cognitive dysfunction associated with acute, casual and chronic drug use, including memory deficits and effects on higher-order (e.g., executive or inhibitory) function.
- Laboratory models of the development of normal or abnormal, excessive, persistent and/or highly motivated behaviors;.
- Behavioral neurogenetics of model organisms, especially zebrafish and mice.
- New animal models or paradigms to study the phases of addiction and transitions between them, and mimic the chronic, relapsing nature of the addiction process, including associated neuroplasticity.
Applicants are encouraged to employ study designs that would permit assessment of sex differences in all of these areas, and models that examine the interaction between biological factors and environmental manipulations.
Staff Research Interests:
Minda Lynch, Ph.D. - Chief
Dr. Lynch is Chief of the BCSRB and chair of NIDA's Trans-divisional Behavioral Science Interest group. Dr. Lynch received her Ph.D. in Biopsychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Following NIDA-sponsored post-doctoral training in neuropsychopharmacology, she established an independent program of preclinical investigation at the SUNY Health Science Center and V.A. Medical Center in Syracuse, New York. As a Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Review awardee for eleven years, she supervised a multidisciplinary research program to investigate the neurobiological substrates of motivated behaviors (conditioned incentive stimuli), and conducted research in animal behavioral models of human psychopathology. As research faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and the multidisciplinary Graduate Neuroscience Program at SUNY she was involved in collaborative clinical research in psychiatric disease and served as course coordinator for Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience. She was also responsible for medical student education in the areas of in Neurotransmitters and Behavior and Pathophysiological Substrates of Psychiatric Disorders. She joined NIDA as a program official in the BCSRB in 1998 and is interested in the role of associative processes in all phases of addiction, animal behavioral models, translation, and paradigms that expand our present conceptualization of the motivation for drug abuse (e.g., drug effects on affect, loss-of-control, alternative reinforcers, changing behavioral repertoires). She serves as NIDA’s representative to the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Coordinating Committee and is involved in activities of NIH’s Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Opportunity Network.
Samia Noursi, Ph.D. - Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Deputy Coordinator and Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Noursi holds a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Maryland and was awarded a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Prior to joining NIDA, she was a Social Science Analyst in the Division of Services and Intervention Research at the National Institute of Mental Health. Before her employment with NIH, she held a position as Research Director for the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues, Center on Children and the Law at the American Bar Association. She has research history in both longitudinal design and study into the effects of domestic violence on children's development. In the BCSRB, Dr. Noursi assists the NIDA's Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Coordinator in providing leadership for NIDA's Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Program. In addition, she serves as Program Officer with a portfolio that focuses on gender differences in the antecedents and consequences of drug abuse, study of vulnerability to drug abuse, and study of the behavioral effects of prenatal exposure to drugs.
David A. Thomas, Ph.D. - Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Thomas received his Ph.D in Experimental Psychology in 1989 from The American University (Washington, DC). From 1984 to1993 he conducted research in the intramural program at the National Institute on Dental Research where he studied pain, analgesia and pruritus in both rodent and primate models, with behavioral, pharmacological and electrophysiological approaches. In 1993, he joined research faculty at the University of Chicago were he continued to conduct researchin pain, analgesia and pruritus. He moved to the basic research division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1995. As a Program Officer in the BCSRB, he oversees a program of research that largely focuses on behavioral aspects of pain and analgesia and the abuse liability of analgesics. Of particular interest are the neural and behavioral relationships between pain and drug abuse, the biobehavioral aspects of the transition from acute to chronic pain, and the contribution of glia cells in the modulating pain and drug abuse in biobehavioral animal models. Dr. Thomas is an active member of NIH’s Trans-institute Pain Consortium.
Susan Volman, Ph.D. - Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Susan Volman oversees a program that emphasizes a systems neurobiology approach in animal models, including electrophysiological recording of neural activity during drug-related activities; studies of learning and memory systems to elucidate how normal processes of neuronal plasticity contribute to drug addiction; and computational approaches to understanding the effects of drug-induced alterations on neural circuits. She is particularly interested in the adaptation of neuroethological and neurogenetic model systems for the study of drug addiction processes. Dr. Volman obtained her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from Cornell University in 1985 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. She was a faculty member in the Department of Zoology and a member of the Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program and the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State University and then served as Director of Developmental Neuroscience at NSF before coming to NIDA in 1998. Dr. Volman has carried out NIH-funded research in a variety of neuroethological model systems with a common theme of neural circuit re-organization underlying behavioral change in response to injury, natural selection, and during ontogeny. Her most recent research had been on song learning in birds. She has served on the editorial board of Brain, Behavior, and Evolution and on the review panel for the Behavioral and Computational Neuroscience Programs at NSF
Cora Lee Wetherington, Ph.D. - Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Coordinator and Health Scientist Administrator
As a Program Officer in the BCSRB, Dr. Cora Lee Wetherington oversees a program of research that largely focuses on study of gender differences in the antecedents and consequences of drug abuse, study of vulnerability to drug abuse, and study of the behavioral effects of prenatal exposure to drugs. Dr. Wetherington also serves as the Women and Gender Research Group Coordinator for NIDA, and as such serves as NIDA's representative to the NIH Coordinating Committee of the Office of Research on Women's Health and as Chair of NIDA's Women and Gender Research Group. She also serves on the Editorial Board of NIDA NOTES. Prior to joining NIDA in 1987 she was a tenured faculty member of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where for 12 years she taught and conducted research in animal learning and behavior with support from NIH and NSF. Dr. Wetherington received her Ph.D. in 1976 in experimental psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is a Fellow of Divisions 25 and 28 of the American Psychological Association and has served on the board of editors of The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and The Behavior Analyst and has conducted guest reviews for many other journals.