Dr. Sergio Iniguez

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Department of Psychology

Dr. Iñiguez’s preclinical research program examines how early life exposure to psychotropic drugs, as well as stress, increases drug-liability in adulthood.

 Research questions

  • How does exposure to social stress during adolescence influence sensitivity to rewards in adulthood?
  • Does juvenile exposure to psychotropic medications increase drug liability later in life?
  • What are the neurobiological mechanisms that mediate facilitated drug preference?

Significance of the work

Epidemiologic reports indicate that mood disorders in children and adolescents are quite common, with up to 70% of depressed children and adolescents experiencing a recurrence within 5 years of the onset of depression. To make matters worse, pediatric depression highly correlates with negative functional outcomes. For example, it is estimated that 25% of the juveniles who suffer from mood-related illnesses develop substance use disorders. As such, the goal of Dr. Iñiguez’s laboratory is to examine how juvenile exposure to stress (risk factor for depression), or antidepressant medications, increases susceptibility to drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, in adulthood.

 Methods to be learned

Dr. Iñiguez’s laboratory uses a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates behavioral, pharmacological, molecular biology techniques to examine whether early-life exposure to psychotropic medications and/or stress results in long-lasting side effects in adulthood. Students will learn to conduct preclinical models that are frequently used in the field of neuroscience to examine alterations in mood-related behavior, such as the social defeat and forced swim tests. Also, students will be exposed to behavioral assays that are designed to examine sensitivity to drugs of abuse (i.e., conditioned place preference).