Trafficking and Biophysics of Neurotransmitter Transporters with emphasis on metabolic regulation of dopamine signaling.
Food intake is regulated by several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin, as well as by peptides and amino acids. Dopamine is of special interest because it seems to regulate food intake by modulating the reward circuitry of the brain.
The involvement of dopamine in pathological eating and obesity is not yet well understood, but it is an area of intense interest in our laboratory. Using mouse and rat models, our laboratory investigates how food intake regulates neurotransmitter transporter function. Neurotransmitter transporters are integral membrane proteins responsible for clearing neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine) from the synaptic cleft, to control the magnitude and duration of synaptic signaling. They include the dopamine (DAT) and norepinephrine (NET) transporters. Substances of abuse such as cocaine and amphetamine, or drugs with clinical relevance such as Ritalin (used for treatment of ADHD), act upon these transporters to alter the concentration of dopamine in the synaptic cleft. The focus of our laboratory is to try to understand the mechanisms of action of these drugs with the intent to improve the pharmacological treatment of specific neurological disorders and substance abuse and now perhaps also obesity and type 2 diabetes.