Jeff Rocca: Looking at the link between chemical pathways in the brain and drug craving

Ability to treat drug craving may help those with a history of addiction

Understanding how the brain works in regards to drug cravings can ultimately lead to better treatments and better outcomes for people overcoming addictions.

Master’s student Jeff Rocca and a team of scientists at Queen’s University are investigating one of the chemical pathways in the rat brain that, when blocked, stops them from experience drug cravings.

Jeff Rocca

In this latest edition of Student Spotlight, EENet’s Heather Lackner looks at Jeff’s research. To read about it click on the download button below.

Student Spotlights are brief profiles of up-and-coming student researchers.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

Understanding how the brain works in regards to drug cravings can ultimately lead to better treatments and better outcomes for people overcoming addictions. Jeff Rocca and a team of scientists at Queen’s University are investigating one of the chemical pathways in the rat brain that, when blocked, stops them from experience drug cravings. 

About Jeff

Jeff is a Master’s student at Queen’s University. He completed his B.A. (Hons.) in Psychology at Laurentian University in Sudbury, where he studied the importance of sleep in learning and memory.

His academic interests include the drug treatments for drug addiction, psychotic disorders, and degenerative diseases of the brain; the anatomy of the human brain; differences in individual responses to drug treatments; and the electrochemical basis of consciousness.

What is Jeff’s research about? 

Using animal models, Jeff is investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that are associated with drug use. An ability to treat drug-craving more effectively may help those with a history of drug abuse to remain abstinent.

Drug-craving can be provoked by surroundings or situations that have been paired with drug use in the past. Smokers may feel the strongest cravings when they are in situations where they normally would smoke, such as in their car or out on their lunch break. This is a problem for those recovering from addiction, since the determination to resist using the drug can often be challenged by strong feelings of craving. 

Stimulant drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines are highly addictive substances that act on a transmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine acts on various chemical pathways in the brain, some of which are involved in the learning of drug/environment associations that can lead to drug craving. 

By better understanding these chemical pathways, we may be able to understand the conditions that are necessary for reward-learning to occur. Through research, we may be able to provide drug treatments to stop drug cravings by blocking those chemical pathways in the brain.

Jeff’s lab is investigating one of these chemical pathways that is activated by dopamine. This pathway leads to the activation of an enzyme called GSK-3β. By blocking GSK-3β in rats, Jeff and other researchers at Queen’s University are able to reduce their learned responses to environments that the rats previously paired with cocaine, which may mean that GSK-3β may play a role in drug cravings.

What’s next for Jeff?

Jeff shows an endless passion and fascination with addictions research and neurobiology, and would like to continue exploring the involvement of glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK 3β) in incentive learning in his doctoral work. 

Queen’s University, Neurotransmitter and Behaviour Laboratory Website: www.queensu.ca/psychology/Beninger/Lab.html

Project Title: Effects of Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 Inhibition on the Acquisition and Expression of Cocaine-Cue Conditioned Activity in Rodents 
Project Supervisor:  Dr. Richard J. Beninger, Professor and Head of Psychology, Professor of Psychiatry, and Member of the Centre for Neuroscience Studies

 

Author: Heather Lackner

 

 

 

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