Photo of Deborah A. Finn, Ph.D.

Deborah A. Finn Ph.D.

  •      (503) 721-7984
    • Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience School of Medicine
    • Research Pharmacologist, Research Service, VA Portland Health Care System
    • Behavioral Neuroscience Graduate Program School of Medicine

Major Areas
Neuropharmacology; neuroendocrinology of ethanol intake and withdrawal 

Summary of Current Research
Several research projects focus on the physiological significance of neurosteroid action. These endogenous modulators alter brain function by enhancing GABAergic neurotransmission via potent and selective interactions with GABA-A receptors. In a broad sense, studies are investigating whether drugs or physiological states which produce alterations in endogenous neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone (ALLO) influence seizure susceptibility, anxiety levels, drug withdrawal hyperexcitability or dysphoria, or patterns of drug intake and the response to drug intake. One neurosteroid project is using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to simultaneously analyze 10 neurosteroids in discrete brain regions and electrophysiological characterization of GABA-A receptor-mediated currents to test the hypothesis that a reduction in hippocampal GABAergic function, due to decreased GABA-A receptor sensitivity to neurosteroids and a concomitant imbalance in ALLO and related neurosteroids, represents a neurochemical substrate for enhanced susceptibility to high ethanol withdrawal. Long term goals of this research are to gain information that will aid in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying ethanol withdrawal as well as the therapeutic potential of neurosteroid treatment during ethanol withdrawal. A second neurosteroid project is manipulating endogenous GABAergic neurosteroid levels or administering synthetic neurosteroids and determining the influence on the appetitive and consummatory processes involved in ethanol self-administration in male and female mice. One long term goal of this research is to evaluate the influence of neurosteroids on gender differences in human patterns of alcohol intake and the response to alcohol, since males and females differ in endogenous neurosteroid levels. 

A second research focus is using models of high ethanol intake to examine changes in neurochemical systems following binge drinking in dependent and non-dependent mice as well as following binge drinking and intermittent stress exposure. The first binge project is pursuing a model whereby chronic intermittent ethanol vapor exposure and withdrawal produces high alcohol intake (termed "withdrawal-induced drinking" or WID). These studies utilize a brain site-specific microinjection technique to manipulate the GABAergic, glutamatergic, and CRF peptide environment of brain regions important in the intoxication circuit and in the dependence and stress circuit. The goal of these studies is to determine whether the neurochemical systems and adaptations in discrete neural sites that are important for the expression of WID differ from those underlying high ethanol intake in non-dependent animals. This information should aid in the development of new strategies for the treatmen of alcohol use disorders and alcoholism. A second binge project is examining the relationship between binge drinking and stress in adolescent and adult male and female mice on subsequent ethanol intake. We observed marked sex differences in adaptations in the glutamatergic system and in several biological pathways following binge drinking that may confer susceptibility for a later increase in drinking behavior. Additionally, evidence indicates that early environmental stress can be a risk factor for alcoholism, but few studies have examined the possibility that binge ethanol exposure could accentuate the physiological and behavioral effects of stress. Current studies are using exposure to predator odor stress, as a model of post-traumatic stress disorder, and are characterizing age and sex differences in the ability of predator odor stress to escalate ethanol intake in mice with prior binge alcohol experience. The goal of these studies is to gain information that can guide the development of new pharmacological strategies, that may differ in males and females, and that can be used to reduce binge consumption and the transition to dependence.

Previous Positions
NINDS Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California, Irvine

Areas of interest

  • GABAergic neurosteroid modulation of ethanol drinking and ethanol withdrawal
  • The influence of steroid levels on brain function and behavior, with behavioral assessments using animal models of anxiety, depression, and seizure susceptibility
  • Neurochemical substrates underlying binge drinking and interaction with stress with a focus on sex differences
  • Use of genetic animal models to examine alcohol-related behaviors


  • B.S., Loyola Marymount University 1978
  • Ph.D., University of Southern California 1989


  • "A comparison of Ro 16-6028 with benzodiazepine receptor 'full agonists' on GABAA receptor function" European Journal of Pharmacology - Molecular Pharmacology Section November 15 1993
  • "Ethanol up-regulates nucleus accumbens neuronal activity dependent pentraxin (Narp)" Alcohol June 2012
  • "Acute neuroactive steroid withdrawal in withdrawal seizure-prone and withdrawal seizure-resistant mice" Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior  2000
  • "Reinforcing effects of the neurosteroid allopregnanolone in rats" Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior  2002
  • "Progesterone receptor antagonist CDB-4124 increases depression-like behavior in mice without affecting locomotor ability" Psychoneuroendocrinology July 2011
  • "The Influence of Selection for Ethanol Withdrawal Severity on Traits Associated With Ethanol Self-Administration and Reinforcement" Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research February 2011
  • "The relationship between hippocampal acetylcholine release and cholinergic convulsant sensitivity in withdrawal seizure-prone and withdrawal seizure-resistant selected mouse lines" Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research August 2002
  • "Sex differences in the effect of ethanol injection and consumption on brain allopregnanolone levels in C57BL/6 mice" Neuroscience  2004
  • "Genetic differences in behavioral sensitivity to a neuroactive steroid" Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics  1997
  • "Injection of oxotremorine in nucleus accumbens shell reduces cocaine but not food self-administration in rats" Brain Research December 6 2006
  • "Localization of brain 5α-reductase messenger RNA in mice selectively bred for high chronic alcohol withdrawal severity" Alcohol December 2011
  • "Effect of nucleus accumbens shell infusions of ganaxolone or gaboxadol on ethanol consumption in mice" Psychopharmacology April 1 2015
  • "Exploring alcohol withdrawal syndrome" Alcohol research : current reviews  1997
  • "Differential change in neuroactive steroid sensitivity during ethanol withdrawal" Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics January 2000
  • "The neurosteroid allopregnanolone impairs object memory and contextual fear memory in male C57BL/6J mice" Hormones and Behavior  2014
  • "Temperature dependence of ethanol depression in mice" Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research  1994
  • "Scheduled access to ethanol results in motor impairment and tolerance in female C57BL/6J mice" Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior August 2005
  • "Effect of 12 atmospheres helium-oxygen on the response of mice to convulsant drugs" Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine March 1996
  • "Binge alcohol drinking by mice requires intact group1 metabotropic glutamate receptor signaling within the Central nucleus of the Amygdale" Neuropsychopharmacology January 2014
  • "Cocaine self-administration alters the locomotor response to microinjection of bicuculline into the ventral tegmental area of rats" Brain Research October 11 2002
  • "Genetic animal models of anxiety" Neurogenetics April 2003
  • "Temperature dependence of ethanol depression in rats" Psychopharmacology September 1986
  • "Selected line difference in sensitivity to a GABAergic neurosteroid during ethanol withdrawal" Genes, Brain and Behavior February 2006
  • "In vivo and in vitro hyperbaric studies in mice suggest novel sites of action for ethanol" Psychopharmacology  1999
  • "The role of pregnane neurosteroids in ethanol withdrawal" Pharmacology and Therapeutics February 2004
  • "Rewarding effect of the neuroactive steroid 3α-hydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one in mice" Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior February 1997
  • "Lesions of the extended amygdala in C57BL/6J mice do not block the intermittent ethanol vapor-induced increase in ethanol consumption" Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research February 2008
  • "Genetic Analysis of the Corticosterone Response to Ethanol in BXD Recombinant Inbred Mice" Behavioral Neuroscience December 1995
  • "Effect of ganaxolone and THIP on operant and limited-access ethanol self-administration" Neuropharmacology September 2012
  • "Different levels of Fos immunoreactivity after repeated handling and injection stress in two inbred strains of mice" Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior May 1999

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