“Arbitration between Actions and Habits: Cortical Regulators and the Influence of Cocaine”
Shannon Gourley, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neuroscience Program
Selecting actions based on their consequences is essential to day-to-day function and yet, is impaired in neuropsychiatric diseases like addiction. Goal-directed action selection likely requires the coordinated output of multiple prefrontal cortical structures, but mechanistic factors are still being identified. I will focus on the neurotrophin BDNF in the orbital prefrontal cortex and PI3-kinase in the medial prefrontal cortex, providing evidence that they are key molecular mechanisms by which the brain coordinates goal-directed action. These findings serve as a platform from which to improve goal-directed action selection following developmental cocaine.
Gourley’s research team aims to understand why adolescence is a period of vulnerability to the development of multiple psychiatric illnesses. She hypothesizes that pathological stimuli, such as stressors, social isolation and drugs of abuse, significantly impact the adolescent prefrontal cortex. Across mammalian species, this brain region organizes complex decision-making, reward valuation and inhibitory control, and it also undergoes considerable remodeling and development during adolescence. Gourley’s team uses behavioral, pharmacological, biochemical, genetic and cellular approaches to develop and optimize novel therapeutic interventions for vulnerable adolescent populations. Conversely, her research team also aims to better understand the neurobiological mechanisms of resilience to stressors and drugs of abuse at any age.
This presentation can be seen via videoconference on the Emory Campus HSRB E260