My research utilizes neuroimaging technology to explore the relationships between neural activity, motivation, and social interaction and how these relationships can be affected by psychiatric illness. My academic interests center on understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie drug use, abuse and risk.
During my graduate work, I observed that common genetic variants in the oxytocin gene are associated with differential neural responses to salient events as measured by [11C]-raclopride positron emission tomography (PET). This study was the first to demonstrate a link between oxytocin gene variation and dopaminergic responsiveness in humans. During my postdoctoral research I chose to more directly ascertain oxytocin’s effect on motivational processes by utilizing a powerful neuroimaging technique, pharmacological fMRI.
Pharmacological fMRI combines drug administration in conjunction with scanning and, as such, we can observe the influence a given drug has on neural activity. As I currently hold an investigator sponsored-IND from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an intranasal form of oxytocin, I am able to explore how oxytocin shapes neural activity within motivational networks using this technique.
My current experiments seek to establish whether oxytocin administration can modulate activity in the neural circuits responsible for the processing of rewards and effect social and other reward-driven behavior.