The research in my laboratory investigates both the detrimental health effects and the potential novel therapeutic effects of opiate drugs, such as heroin and morphine. There is a high incidence of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections among long-term heroin users suggesting that the use of opioids increases susceptibility to infectious disease. While usually attributed to the poor health behavior, studies in my laboratory have shown that opiates themselves induce pronounced alterations of immune responses that are mediated through neural immune pathways.
Interestingly, the results of our investigations have demonstrated that stimuli associated with the administration of heroin can induce alterations of immune functioning, indicating that the detrimental health consequences of opiate use may also be conditioned to environmental stimuli and not solely due to the pharmacological properties of the drug. How is it that drug-associated stimuli engage both the peripheral immune system and the associative learning circuitry such that the immune consequences of drug use persist despite the absence of drug use? The overall aim of our research is to unravel the complex neural circuitry and cellular mechanisms mediating drug-conditioned immune alterations and cue-evoked drug craving. More information regarding recent findings is available on my research page.