Dr. J. David Jentsch, professor in the Departments of Psychology-Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the recipient of the 2011 Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award for Innovative Research in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. He accepted the award and delivered the keynote lecture, "Reward Interrupted: Inhibitory Control and Its Relationship to Addictions," at NIDA's Frontiers in Addiction Research miniconference in Washington, D.C., on November 11, 2011.
Dr. Jentsch seeks to understand the biological influences affecting differences in brain function and behavior among individuals. He is elucidating the genetics and neurocircuitry underlying individuals’ ability to exert inhibitory control over reward-seeking behavior—a critical factor in vulnerability to addiction as well as to other psychiatric disorders. Many of his experiments use reversal learning protocols, in which an animal must selectively inhibit previously acquired reward-seeking behavior when the cue for the reward is changed. Dr. Jentsch’s animal research indicates that variations in impulsivity that occur naturally prior to any drug exposure predict subsequent levels of drug self-administration, and also confirms that drug experience itself causes deficits in inhibitory control. Dr. Jentsch’s human neuroimaging research suggests that the structural and functional integrity of several brain regions, including the orbitofrontal cortex and the inferior frontal gyrus, are essential for self-control.
Dr. Jentsch and colleagues are seeking to identify genes that influence individual differences in inhibitory control. One particular focus of their research is on the genes responsible for low levels of the dopamine 2 receptor, which are associated with poorer inhibitory control and greater cocaine self-administration. In parallel with their animal studies, Dr. Jentsch and colleagues are studying similar factors in people with and without substance use disorders. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and tasks requiring reversal learning and withholding responses, the researchers will determine whether dopamine transmission mediates the link between genotype and poor inhibitory control in both animal models and human subjects.
The $25,000 award is presented each year to a young scientist within 15 years of obtaining a doctoral degree and is intended to encourage innovative research into the neurobiology of drug addiction and alcoholism. The Waletzky family established the award in 2003 in memory of Jacob P. Waletzky, who died at age 29 of cocaine-induced cardiac arrhythmia.