SMART:MIND

        THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT EL PASO

Dr. Katherine Serafine

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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)?
  •  How does dietary condition during adolescence impact drug sensitivity later in life?
  •  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. Given the recent, steady increase in overconsumption of high fat and high sugar foods among children and adolescents, younger individuals might be at higher risk to develop chronic metabolic disease. Further, adolescence is a period of high risk already, during which many individuals experiment with drugs of abuse for the first time. Dr. Serafine's Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory focuses on identifying how diet impacts sensitivity of animals to drugs of abuse, like cocaine. 

 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). Dr. Serafine also uses neurochemical techniques (e.g, in vivo chronoamperometry) to investigate the function of neurotransmitter transporters.