Donita Robinson, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry
Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies
Associate Dean of Graduate Education
The brain is adept at identifying and obtaining rewards such as food, sex and alcohol. We study neural activity in corticostriatal circuits of the rat that are crucial to this motivated behavior. Our goal is to understand how addictive drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, alter corticostriatal circuit activity both acutely and persistently, especially when drug exposure occurs during adolescence. To examine corticostriatal activity, we use a variety of complimentary approaches: electrochemistry to measure real-time dopamine fluctuations; electrophysiology to monitor neuronal firing patterns; optogenetics to manipulate neuronal activity; and resting-state functional MRI to assess functional connectivity across brain regions of interest. Behavioral measurements include instrumental and Pavlovian conditioning, with a focus on how drug exposure, such as binge alcohol during adolescence, alters behavioral flexibility in response to changing circumstances or reward value. The Robinson lab works closely with the lab of Dr. Charlotte Boettiger, who studies the same neural circuits and similar behavioral processes in humans, in order to design our rodent studies to gain translational value.