April 16, WTMJ News
Two faculty researchers at Marquette University have received a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that will fund neuroscientific research into psychiatric disorders such as addiction and depression.
Drs. Robert Wheeler and John Mantsch will study how unpleasant experiences negatively impact people with underlying psychiatric disorders, with the goal of developing innovative behavioral and pharmacological therapies aimed at managing them.
Their project is titled “Aversion signals in the reward system.”
“Aversive life experiences are unavoidable and can vary widely, from very highly stressful events to more mildly negative experiences,” said Wheeler, an associate professor of biomedical sciences. “However, each of these experiences is represented by a neural aversion signal in the brain. In someone struggling with an underlying disorder like addiction, these signals can lead to relapse, and persistent aversive signals can also contribute to diseases like depression.”
The research team has identified the presence of aversion signals in the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain also known for processing pleasurable stimuli.
Aversion signals in the nucleus accumbens are represented by a reduced concentration of a stress-sensitive neurotransmitter called dopamine. The researchers believe that, in people with underlying disorders, the dopamine response to stressful events triggers addiction and other harmful behaviors.
“Our purpose is to characterize how these signals are represented and how they change behavior,” said Mantsch, chair and professor of biomedical sciences. “We believe that decoding aversion signals will give us critical insight into both a fundamental aspect of the human condition and a range of stress-sensitive psychiatric disorders.”