Alterations in neural circuits mediating executive and decision making functions by chronic psychostimulant exposure

Emotional processes and higher order executive functions are governed in part by interconnected neural networks that link the amygdala (a brain nucleus in the temporal lobes) to the frontal lobes. Drug addicts, particularly those abusing psycho-stimulants such as amphetamine or cocaine, show impaired cognitive function specific to these particular brain circuits. Recent evidence suggests that the brain regions comprising this circuit may be particularly susceptible to long-term neuro-chemical, anatomical and neuro-physiological alterations following repeated exposure to this kind of drug abuse.

Building on his research as an MSFHR Scholar, Dr. Stanley Floresco's multidisciplinary research program aims to clarify the alterations in brain circuitry that occur following repeated exposure to psycho-stimulant drugs. Behavioural studies will determine how repeated exposure to drugs of abuse in animals disrupt certain cognitive functions known to be impaired in stimulant abusers, such as behavioural flexibility and decision-making. Other studies will investigate how activity in these brain circuits is altered following repeated drug exposure and clarify the cellular mechanisms that underlie the associated cognitive impairments. Investigating the changes that chronic drug abuse creates in these circuits will provide important insight into the abnormal brain function that underlies drug addiction. This could lead to development of treatments for the cognitive dysfunction that occurs with chronic drug abuse.