Dr. Katherine Serafine
Department of Psychology
Dr. Serafine's research program uses animal models to study the factors (such as age, sex, and diet) that contribute to vulnerability to drug abuse.
Students through SMARTMIND work on actively funded grant projects related to my NIH R16 award focused on the abuse liability of opioids in rats eating different diets.
Relation to addiction studies
This work involves the study of opioid drugs, including morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl. We are directly assessing the abuse-related effects of these drugs along with other effects (including the respiratory depression induced by these drugs that often leads to overdose in humans).
- How do different diets impact sensitivity to drugs acting on reward systems?
- How does diet change brain reward pathways (the neurochemical systems impacted by drugs of abuse)?
- Are females more sensitive to drugs than males ?
- Are females more vulnerable to the impact of diet on drug sensitivity than males?
Significance of the work
The USDA recently reported that eating a diet high in fat can lead to increased risk of chronic diseases (including type 2 diabetes and obesity) and mortality. Eating diets high in fat or sugar can also increase sensitivity of animals to drugs acting on brain reward (dopamine) pathways, in ways that might predict enhanced vulnerability to drug abuse. Recent research suggest that females might be more sensitive to drugs of abuse, in ways that might contribute to a quicker transition from causual use to abuse. Dr. Serafine's Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory focuses on identifying how diet impacts sensitivity of animals to drugs of abuse, like cocaine, and how males and females differ regarding drug sensitivity.
Methods to be learned
In Dr. Serafine's laboratory, drug sensitivity is assessed using behavioral pharmacological models ranging from unconditioned behavior (e.g., locomotion) to more complex behaviors using classical and operant conditioning (e.g., conditioned place preference, drug discrimination, or intravenous self-administration).