Dr. Katherine Serafine

Return to List

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.

Research questions:

  • 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).