About the Portland Alcohol Research Center

Lay Summary of Center Activities


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established the Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC) at the VA Portland Health Care System (VAPHCS) and the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). The PARC has been funded by NIAAA to support research through 2020.

The center supports the coordinated research efforts of 15 scientists at the VA and OHSU, in areas ranging from behavioral neuroscience to molecular biology. More than 30 people are working on different aspects of the research. The PARC is one of 20 alcohol research centers funded by NIAAA, which is the primary source of all funding for alcohol research in the United States. Dr. Tamara Phillips is the center Director.

Overview: Uncovering the Genetics of How the Brain Adapts to Alcohol

Two overarching themes unite the work of Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC) projects and cores. The first is genetic risk factors that contribute to the etiology of alcohol use disorders. The second is the role of genetic factors in the consequences of alcohol use. A major strength of the PARC is the use of multiple species, which will result in more comprehensive analysis and provide important translational links.

A significant focus is on neural mapping via imaging studies in non-human primates and humans, and brain region-specific gene expression studies in mice and macaques. In our current work, we focus on genetic influences on level of chronic alcohol use and neuroadaptation in mice and monkeys, and include a human Project (P001) that considers genetic family history and brain response to an acute alcohol challenge. The genetic risk and protective markers, patterns of neural circuitry differences and changes, and gene network information will ultimately help us and others to develop strategies for the prevention and treatment of alcoholism. Our existing genetic and imaging network analyses in mice and/or non-human primates have provided important information about relevant brain regions and pathways, and important gene networks and hubs.

Three research Projects (P001-P003) and one service Core (C002) address the PARC themes, using mouse models, non-human primates and human subjects. An outreach Core (Information Dissemination Core, C004) continues to train pre-doctoral, post-doctoral and medical students in alcohol research, disseminates research findings to the public, and engages in a range of educational activities with elementary to high school students. An Administrative Core (AC001) provides scientific, organizational and budgetary oversight, makes executive decisions as required, and assists with coordination of Information Dissemination Core educational and science sharing activities.

Our bioinformatics efforts have enabled expansion of a key strength of our group from the analysis of the contributions of individual genes on behavioral functions of the whole organism to include gene network identification and extend our analyses to considerations of both coexpression and cosplicing, as well as differential wiring and differential variability; this continues in Core (C002). In addition, the PARC has an extensive network of collaborations with alcohol researchers at other institutions, including those linked to other Centers and consortia.  In summary, the PARC seeks to identify genetic factors that place individuals at risk or protect them from alcoholism, and to identify genetic and neural consequences of excessive alcohol use. This knowledge will facilitate intervention and development of better therapeutics to treat alcohol use disorders.