Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road
Boca Raton, FL 33431
The current research program in my laboratory focuses on temporal dynamics of epileptogenesis using a transgenic mouse strain that over expresses the brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the forebrain. This model allows for a sizeable time window before full motor seizures emerge that is ideal for studying progressive changes in brain circuits that mediate hyperexcitability. We evaluate anatomical, functional and molecular changes on route to epilepsy. The spontaneous nature of seizures (i.e., without injection of chemoconvulsants or electrical stimulation) makes this animal model well suited to study adult epilepsy of unknown causes. Our studies include genetic, behavioral and neuromodulatory intervention strategies aimed at delaying or reversing the evolution of seizures, or eliminating impairment of consciousness associated with convulsive seizures. Severe loss of consciousness induced by successive epileptic seizures may present increased risk of fatality. We use the current model to map out brainstem circuits that may be dysregulated with repeated seizures to understand how epilepsy could present fatality risk. In addition, my laboratory has a long-standing research program investigating individual differences in vulnerability to nicotine relapse using an outbred rodent model of the novelty-seeking/risk-taking phenotype. We target peripubertal-juvenile period as a critical time window when novelty-seeking phenotype first emerges and map out neurobiological differences between individuals that predict high susceptibility to nicotine relapse in a subgroup of individuals that also rank high on the novelty-seeking continuum. Using this simple behavioral screening method, we can reliably identify high novelty-seekers as early as adolescence and follow development of nicotine sensitization and subsequent abstinence-related emotional disturbances, and link them to neuroanatomical and molecular adaptations in the mesocorticolimbic reward circuitry.