Currently, I am a third year neuroscience graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Sachin Patel. Dr. Patel’s laboratory hopes to uncover novel bio-markers and pharmacological targets for drug development that will provide insight into the pathophysiology of stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders by understanding the molecular, structural, and physiological adaptations in endocannabinoid signaling that occur in response to stress. My thesis research project under the guidance of Dr. Patel, my thesis mentor, focuses on the role of the endocannabinoid system in stress-induced maladaptations in the mouse brain, specifically the amygdala. By investigating stress-induced changes in the amygdala, mechanisms that underlie stress-related neuronal plasticity and remodeling leading to fear and anxiety can be determined. The endocannabinoid system has been shown to alter fear extinction in animal models and human studies. However, few studies have addressed the association between chronic anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, and the endocannabinoid system and the underlying mechanisms that contribute to fear acquisition and extinction in the amygdala. Through my thesis research project, I will investigate the molecular mechanisms involving the endocannabinoid system, specifically signaling through cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R), which underlie the development and exacerbation of anxiety-like behaviors in rodents. In particular, my thesis research project will test the hypothesis that substrate-selective inhibitors of cyclooxygenase-2 (SSIs-COX-2) have anxiolytic potential by augmenting endocannabinoid (eCB) levels in the brains of animals and humans. It will involve the use of electrophysiological recordings in brain slices, mass spectrometry, and a variety of behavioral and protein biochemical techniques.
My clinical mentor, Dr. A. J. Reid Finlayson, is a psychiatrist and the Medical Director of the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program, for Professionals (V-CAP), which is a multi-disciplinary program that provides assessment and monitoring services to professionals suffering from addictions, mental health, boundary-related, and burnout problems. I hope that exposure to my clinical mentor and a patient population with stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders will provide me with a better understanding of the animal models I use in the laboratory to study anxiety disorders, and to critically evaluate their validity from a more clinical/translational perspective. Thus, this exposure will provide a unique opportunity to begin to translate out basic neurobiological findings in animals to human clinical samples, providing new information concerning the role of the endocannabinoid system in anxiety disorders that can be useful for medical practice.