"Translational research" involves looking at a single problem from many different directions and at many different levels. For example, we might look at the issue of drug craving by talking with addicts about their experiences, viewing their brains through an MRI scanner, observing mice who have become addicted to drugs, or using cultured cells to look at neurotransmitter receptors affected by drug molecules. Investigating neurobiological questions at these multiple levels makes research more powerful, since each level or technique has different insights to offer.
MARC research themes
Tying our work together, the MARC has several research themes related to methamphetamine addiction.
Impulsivity can be loosely defined as the tendency to act or speak quickly without first thinking of consequences. Researchers have long known that drug users tend to me more impulsive, on average, than non-users. However, it's been hard to tell which trait is the cause of the other: Are impulsive people more likely to become addicted, or does drug addiction make people more impulsive? Or both?
Because the trait of impulsivity is related closely to substance-use decisions — both decisions to try drugs for the first time, and decisions related to continued use and relapse — impulsivity is an important area to study in understanding addiction.
Stress is not just a feeling, but a series of physiological and neurological events in the body. Drug addiction can cause stress, as when the user worries about finding the next dose of drug or confronts life problems caused by the addiction. Research suggests that stress is also an important factor in continued abuse and that it may play a role in relapse by affecting chemical signals in the brain. Understanding the how stress interacts in the brain with the chemical changes wrought by addiction can help us target ways to interrupt this destructive cycle.
Researchers understand some ways that methamphetamine works in the brain, but many puzzles remain as to where exactly the drug has its effects and how these initial effects cascade forward to other parts of the brain and nervous anatomy. Before we can effectively address these effects, it helps to understand where they are happening.
The brain that someone has after using methamphetamine -- even once -- is not the same brain she or he had before encountering the drug. Methamphetamine powerfully hijacks parts of the brain's chemical pathways in ways that result in changes that persist even when someone is no longer using the drug. If a person continues to use, the brain adapts in response, leading to the phenomenon we know as addiction. The MARC aims to understand more about when and how these alterations in chemistry take place, and what can be done to reverse them.
As a P-50 research center, the MARC brings multiple thematically related research projects together around a centralized core. Our second five-year funding segment adds a neuroimmunological line of investigation to our original neuroscience approach. Center themes include:
- Neuroadaptation to methamphetamine
- Neurocircuitry of methamphetamine response
- Impulsivity as a predictor of methamphetamine abuse or as a characteristic that may be altered by methamphetamine
- Neuroimmune response (drug-induced or endogenous differences in neuroimmune function that affect the response to MA)
- Translation between preclinical and clinical models of methamphetamine effects/abuse
Work is organized into nine core and research components: