SMART:MIND

        THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT EL PASO

Dr. Kristin L. Gosselink

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Department of Biological Sciences

Dr. Gosselink’s research program is focused on central nervous system responses to stress, and how chronic stress contributes to disease incidence and progression.

Research questions:

  • How does the brain process stressful stimuli, and how do responses differ when the stress is chronic compared to acute?
  • How does stress increase vulnerability to substance abuse?
  • What are the mechanisms through which chronic stress impacts other processes such as learning and memory, or negative health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, or stroke?
  • How do the effects of chronic stress differ in females compared to males?

Significance of the work: In our summer projects, students will focus mainly on stress-induced increases in the risk for substance abuse and addiction, by examining the relationships between stress, behavior (self-administration) and the dopamine neurotransmitter system. Drug abuse and addiction contribute substantially to healthcare and societal costs in the United States, through treatment and prevention costs, lost job productivity, crime, public health consequences, and death. Differences between men and women, members of varying ethnic and racial groups, and adolescents and adults are seen regarding drug use tendencies and the effectiveness of treatment and prevention strategies. The causes of these differences, however, are largely unknown and comprise a significant gap in our current knowledge. Moreover, it has recently been recognized that stress is a major factor in drug use, but the complex interrelationship between stress and addiction has yet to be fully defined. The goal of this work is to determine the central nervous system pathways and mechanisms that are modified by stress and contribute to an increased vulnerability to substance use/abuse. Additionally, we will examine developmental and sex-based differences in stress susceptibility which may contribute to altered drug use behavior in adolescents compared to adults, and in females compared to males.

Methods to be learned: Dr. Gosselink’s laboratory evaluates stress responses and disease-related outcomes at multiple levels, ranging from molecular through organismal. Techniques that will be used include emotional stress, ELISA, immunohistochemistry with and without fluorescence, microscopy and imaging, SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, and qPCR. Separate projects in the lab employ cell and explant culture, immunocytochemistry, and FACS and Milliplex analyses, giving summer students additional opportunities to be exposed to different techniques and training.