Ph.D., Biological Psychology, Learning and Development Program, University of Pittsburgh, 1986
M.S., Biological Psychology, Learning and Development Program, University of Pittsburgh, 1983
B.S., Anthropology-Psychology, Magna Cum Laude, Departmental Honors in Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, 1979
The research in my laboratory investigates both the detrimental health effects and the potential novel therapeutic effects of opiates. There is a high incidence of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections among long-term heroin users suggesting that the use of opioids alters resistance to infectious disease. Studies in my laboratory have shown that opiate use induces pronounced alterations of immune responses that are mediated through neural immune pathways. Moreover, the results of our investigations have demonstrated that alterations of immune status can be induced by the stimuli associated with the administration of opiates, indicating that the detrimental health consequences of opiate use may also be conditioned to the environmental stimuli and not solely the pharmacological property of the drug. The overall aim of this research is to define the neural circuitry and cellular mechanisms mediating conditioned drug-induced immune alterations. To date, this work has shown that the ventral tegmental area to the basolateral amygdala and the nucleus accumbens is critical for the expression conditioned opiate-induced immunomodulation. Most recently, we have been examining the role of the hippocampus and brain interleukin-1β in the immunosuppressive effect of opiates.
We have also initiated studies of opiates as pharmacotherapeutic agents in the prevention of stress related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This research provides the first key steps towards the development of a preventative therapy for PTSD. Clinical studies have shown a correlation between morphine administration and a decrease in post traumatic symptoms following trauma. Our research has provided strong basic research support for this relationship. Our goal is to understand the neural mechanisms by which opiates impact the neural processes associated with PTSD. Currently, there is little known about PTSD formation and how it can be prevented in the aftermath of a major stress or trauma, but this newly evolving and important area of research focusing on opioid pharmacotherapy in the development and prevention of this devastating disorder will provide new insights and potential treatments