Overarching goal of the INIAstress Consortium

Elucidating changes in brain circuitry and mechanisms that underlie how alcohol and stress interact to facilitate a trajectory toward excessive drinking, a negative emotional state, cognitive (executive) function deficits, abstinence/relapse and recovery. Through this knowledge the consortium will advance personalized medicine approaches to alleviate and/or reverse recovery from AUD comorbid with dysfunctional response to stress. 

Operational principles of the Consortium

Translational: The INIAstress consortium embraces an integrative approach across different species and research projects to enhance translational impact on findings related to alcohol-stress interactions. While most labs utilize protocols involving only a single species, advances in the translational goals of the consortium will be best facilitated through cross-species integration of data.

  • Synergism: Open exchange of information derived from multidisciplinary approaches within and between projects to develop new knowledge. Participation in meetings, publications, experimental designs, protocols, data and tissues repositories are key to best achieving the consortium goals.
  • Overall integration: While projects are required to show how information will be integrated into the consortium goals, each project is not charged with addressing all aspects of emphasis or the approaches taken. Rather, integrative value comes from emphasis of relation of aims for each project to the overall goals of the consortium.
Graph indicating the correlating behavioral models focused on by INIAstress: Excessive Alcohol Drinking and Allostatic Stress Outcomes and Phenotypic Risk Factors

General framework for research projects

Our focus is on behavioral models/tasks that are sensitive to chronic alcohol and stress effects, and enable reliable measurement of alcohol consumption (e.g., excessive drinking, relapse-like behavior), negative emotional state (e.g., anxiety, pain sensitivity, sleep disturbances), and executive function impairment (e.g., cognitive flexibility, memory tasks, sensory perception).

  • Excessive alcohol drinking: Chronic alcohol induction/exposure models that engender excessive levels of drinking and are responsive to stress exposure.
  • Allostatic stress outcomes: Environmental, physiological, and social stressors that are sensitive to allostasis produced by chronic alcohol exposure and that facilitate excessive drinking and alcohol relapse-like behavior, negative affect, and deficits in executive function. 
  • Individual differences in risk factors: Individual differences in susceptibility to stress and interaction with risk factors for excessive alcohol drinking, abstinence/relapse and recovery.
  • Abstinence/relapse and recovery: Acute and short-term abstinence from chronic alcohol exposure alters responses to stress, mood, pain and other outcomes and these responses may change over time with recovery, but may also jeopardize recovery by prompting relapse. Very little is known about the dynamic brain changes that occur during recovery from early acute abstinence to short-term to later stages of abstinence and the impact on treatment development.

Research domains

Research in the INIAstress Consortium focus on three domains that address the main research theme of stress-alcohol interactions: molecules, neurocircuits, and phenotypes. Each project incorporates cutting-edge technologies and contributes to multidisciplinary approaches that enable comprehensive examination of molecular, cellular, synaptic, and neurobehavioral mechanisms underlying stress-alcohol interactions.

  • Molecules: Our focus is on pro-stress as well as anti-stress systems and their risks/adaptations as they may relate to susceptibility vs. resilience (respectively) in terms of stress-alcohol interactions. 
  • Neurocircuits: Our focus is on cortical-striatal-limbic pathways, particularly those brain regions and circuits that are sensitive to both chronic alcohol and stress in negative emotional states, executive function, sensory perception of associative processes and a new direction of pain perception/reactivity.
  • Phenotypes: In addition to the information listed in the General Framework column:
    • Both risk and consequence (adaptation) are addressed and emphasized in designs.
    • Sex as a biological variable: An aspect of all research projects.
Graph indicating the three domain focuses of research Molecules, Neurocircuits and Phenotypes. Also shows their interrelations as each incorporates cutting-edge technologies and contributes to multidisciplinary approaches that examine aspects of stress-alcohol interactions.