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Volume 19, Number 3, September 2008

Charlotte Boettiger, Ph.D.

As the academic year kicks off with innovative and exciting alcohol research, the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies (CAS) is pleased to welcome new faculty member Charlotte Boettiger, Ph.D. Boettiger, assistant professor in Psychology, brings an extensive knowledge of imaging research as it relates to patients with substance and alcohol abuse disorders.

Boettiger’s Cognitive and Addiction Biopsychology Laboratory studies the problem of addiction from a cognitive perspective. The goal is to determine how certain cognitive processes differ in people with a personal or family history of addiction and to study the cognitive effects of addiction treatments.

The lab’s research focuses on three areas of cognition: reinforcement-based association learning, selection bias for immediate rewards, and abnormal attention to addiction-related information. Since breaking old habits is essential in recovery from addiction, Boettiger and her team investigate how we form and break habits by studying how the brain enables us to learn and replace stimulus-response associations.

“We know that addiction is associated with the tendency to choose immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards. Our work focuses on establishing the neurobiological mechanisms that cause this tendency to choose ‘now’ over ‘later,’” said Boettiger.

Using MRI, Boettiger is able to capture snapshots of brain activity over time in those suffering from substance and alcohol use disorders. She is currently collaborating with CAS faculty member JC Garbutt, M.D., on a clinical trial designed to determine whether the medications baclofen and naltrexone reduce drinking. Boettiger’s team is testing whether medications change patients’ decision-making and attention.

Additionally, Boettiger will be collaborating with Garbutt’s team in a study to identify factors that predict problem drinking among college-age people. The team will test participants’ performance in a decision-making task that differentiates between adults with and without a history of alcohol use disorders.
Boettiger received her A.B. in integrative biology from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UC, San Francisco. Her postdoctoral training in neuroimaging methods took place at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC, Berkeley. Before coming to UNC, she was an associate investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UCSF. At UNC, Boettiger is a core faculty member in the Behavioral Neuroscience Program, the Biomedical Research Imaging Center, and the Curriculum in Neurobiology.