Graduate Studies Faculty

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Christopher L. Cunningham, Ph.D.

Professor, Behavioral Neuroscience
Admin Unit: SOM-Behavioral Neuroscience Department
Office: MRB
Mail Code: L470
Behavioral Neuroscience
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Research Interests:
brain mechanisms of drug reward, animal models of alcohol and drug addiction, conditioned place preference and aversion, conditioned taste aversion, drug self-administration, behavioral pharmacology, Pavlovian conditioning, learning and motivation, behavioral genetics » PubMed Listing
Preceptor Rotations
Academic Term Available Fall 2015 Yes Summer 2015 Maybe Spring 2015 Maybe Winter 2015 Yes Spring 2016 Maybe
Faculty Mentorship
Dr. Cunningham might be available as a mentor for 2015-2016.

Major Areas: Behavioral Pharmacology, Learning and Motivation, Behavioral Genetics, Animal Models of Drug Abuse and Dependence

Summary of Current Research

My laboratory focuses on motivational (rewarding and aversive) effects of abused drugs, with special emphasis on drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors.  Our studies generally involve behaviors that are established through Pavlovian conditioning or instrumental learning procedures (e.g., conditioned place preference/aversion, drug self-administration). In some studies, our goal is to identify and characterize the physiological, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and molecular systems that mediate drug reward and aversion, including studies that involve systemic or intracranial administration of pharmacological or pharmacosyntheticagents (e.g., receptor agonists/antagonists, DREADDs). For example, in one recent project, activation of inhibitory designer receptors that had been virally inserted into the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) reduced expression of alcohol-induced conditioned place preference, suggesting an important role of that brain area in alcohol-conditioned reward. In other studies, we are more directly concerned with increasing our knowledge about current models of drug-seeking behavior and developing better models. We have been especially interested in the somewhat paradoxical finding that alcohol produces both positive and negative motivational effects, depending on the behavioral procedure. In another series of studies, we are developing a new model of intragastric alcohol consumption (IGAC) in mice that are tolerant and dependent.  Recent studies with the IGAC model have shown that passive exposure to alcohol will substantially increase later voluntary self-infusion of alcohol (relative to water exposed controls), even in mouse strains that normally avoid alcohol in drinking procedures.   Finally, other projects focus on genetic influences, with the long-term goal of identifying specific genes that underlie the rewarding and aversive effects of abused drugs. These studies involve various animal genetic models, including selectively bred mouse lines and inbred mouse strains.

Recent Publications

Barkley-Levenson, A. M., Cunningham, C. L.. Smitasin, P. J., & Crabbe, J. C. (2015). Rewarding and aversive effects of ethanol in High Drinking in the Dark selectively bred mice. Addiction Biology, 20, 80-90.

Cunningham, C. L. & Zerizef, C. (2014). Effects of combining tactile with visual and spatial cues in conditioned place preference. Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior, 124, 443-450.

Cunningham, C. L. (2014). Genetic relationship between ethanol-induced conditioned place preference and other ethanol phenotypes in 15 inbred mouse strains.Behavioral Neuroscience, 128, 430-445.

Hitchcock, L. L., Cunningham, C. L., & Lattal, K. M. (2014). Cue configuration effects in acquisition and extinction of a cocaine-induced place preference. Behavioral Neuroscience, 128, 217-227.

Young, E. A., Dreumont, S. E., Cunningham, C. L. (2014). Role of nucleus accumbens dopamine receptor subtypes in the learning and expression of alcohol-seeking behavior. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 108, 28-37. 

Pina, M. M., & Cunningham, C. L. (2014). Effects of dopamine receptor antagonists on the acquisition of ethanol-induced conditioned place preference in mice. Psychopharmacology, 231, 459-468. 

Dreumont, S. E., & Cunningham, C. L. (2014). Effects of acute withdrawal on ethanol-induced conditioned place preference in DBA/2J mice.  Psychopharmacology, 231, 777-785. 

Cunningham, C. L., Fidler, T. L., Murphy, K. V., Mulgrew, J. A., & Smitasin, P. J. (2013). Time-dependent negative reinforcement of ethanol intake by alleviation of acute withdrawal. Biological Psychiatry, 73(3), 249-255. 

Groblewski, P. A., Ryabinin, A. E. & Cunningham, C. L. (2012). Activation and role of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in extinction of ethanol-induced associative learning in mice. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 97, 37-46.

Fidler, T. L., Powers, M. S., Ramirez, J. J., Crane, A. T., Mulgrew, J. A., Smitasin, P. J., & Cunningham, C. L. (2012). Dependence induced increases in Intragastric Alcohol Consumption (IGAC) in mice. Addiction Biology, 17, 13-32.

Giardino, W. J., Cocking, D. L., Kaur, S., Cunningham, C. L., & Ryabinin, A. E. (2011). Urocortin-1 in the centrally-projecting Edinger-Westphal nucleus is critical for ethanol preference. PLoS ONE, 6.

Shabani, S., McKinnon, C. S., Reed, C., Cunningham, C. L., & Phillips, T. J. (2011). Sensitivity to rewarding or aversive effects of methamphetamine determines methamphetamine intake. Genes, Brain & Behavior, 10, 625-636.

Gremel, C. M., Young, E. A., & Cunningham, C. L. (2011). Blockade of opioid receptors in anterior cingulate cortex disrupts ethanol-seeking behavior in mice. Behavioural Brain Research, 219, 358-362.

Cunningham, C. L., Groblewski, P. A. & Voorhees, C. M. (2011). Place conditioning. In M. C. Olmstead (Ed.), Animal models of drug addiction (pp. 167-189). Totowa, NJ: Humana Press.

Gremel, C. M. & Cunningham, C. L. (2009). Involvement of amygdala dopamine- and nucleus accumbens NMDA- receptors in ethanol-seeking behavior in mice. Neuropsychopharmacology, 34, 1443-1453.

Gremel, C. M., & Cunningham, C. L. (2008). Roles of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala in the acquisition and expression of ethanol-conditioned behavior in mice. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(5): 1076-1084.

Cunningham, C. L., Gremel, C. M., & Groblewski, P. A. (2006). Drug-induced conditioned place preference and aversion in mice. Nature Protocols, 1, 1662-1670.

Previous Positions

  • Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, School of Medicine, OHSU
  • Interim Chair, Behavioral Neuroscience, OHSU
  • Vice-Chair, Medical Psychology, OHSU
  • Assistant/Associate/Professor, Medical Psychology, OHSU
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Psychology, Indiana University
  • NIMH Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Yale University