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 Besheer Research Team


Back row: McKinley Windram, Dev Patel, Maya Bluitt, Dr. Dennis Lovelock, Dr. Laura Ornelas

Front row: Elisabeth Pitrolo, Sophia Lin, Ryan Tyler, Dr. Joyce Besheer, Tori Cordero, Dr. Wen Liu


One of the focuses of the Besheer Lab is to understand the neurobiology underlying the subjective/interoceptive effects of alcohol and alcohol drinking and relapse. In particular we are interested in understanding how episodes of stress can impact interoceptive sensitivity to alcohol and alcohol drinking and relapse, with a focus on the mechanistic involvement of the glutamatergic system. Our work takes a multidisciplinary approach, utilizing different models of self-administration and drug discrimination, behavioral pharmacology and chemogenetic techniques, and molecular techniques to better understand the underlying neural mechanisms underlying these critical behaviors. Together, studying mechanisms involved in how stress can modulate the interoceptive effects of alcohol and alcohol reinforcement has numerous implications for the development of therapeutic interventions in alcoholism and for identifying factors that influence pathological behavioral processes in addiction, such as drug taking and relapse.

Research Interests

  • Neurobiological mechanisms and circuitry underlying sensitivity to the interoceptive effects of alcohol and underlying sex differences.
  • Neurobiological mechanisms and circuitry underlying and alcohol self-administration and relapse-like behavior, and underlying sex differences.
  • Understanding the impact of episodes of stress on the interoceptive effects of alcohol and alcohol self-administration and relapse.
  • Identifying the functional involvement of molecular targets that can modulate sensitivity to alcohol and increased alcohol drinking and relapse following stress exposure.
  • Understanding the contribution of neuroimmune signaling in excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Identifying novel targets to reduce alcohol consumption and relapse as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.

Research Contributions:

  • Insular cortex and connections with the nucleus accumbens modulate interoceptive sensitivity to alcohol.
  • Lasting adaptations in glutamatergic and stress-related targets in corticolimbic regions persist following a single stressor exposure.
  • Individual and sex differences in stress reactivity can predict escalations in alcohol drinking.
  • Mineralocorticoid receptors and specifically those in the central amygdala play an important role in regulating alcohol consumption.
  • Activation of the neuroimmune signaling by Toll like receptor 3 and 7 increases alcohol self-administration and increases gene expression of interferon regulatory factor 7 (IRF7) in key corticolimbic brain regions.