Rafael Perez

Graduate Student, Pharmacology

My research in Dr. Danny Winder’s lab focuses on investigating the role of norepinephrine signaling in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), and its influence on relapse of cocaine addiction. The BNST, a brain region within the extended amygdala that is critical for stress and anxiety responses, shows alterations in neurotransmission following long-term cocaine use. Currently, I am investigating the interaction between norepinephrine and corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) within the BNST. Pharmacological inhibition of beta adrenergic or CRF receptors within the BNST prevents stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking and place preference in murine models. However, since the BNST not only contains CRF producing neurons, but also receives numerous exogenous CRF projections, the source of CRF that is necessary for modulating anxiety and stress-induced reinstatement of drug seeking remains unknown. I am using a combination of electrophysiological, molecular, and behavioral approaches to determine this important source. This is work will further our understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie how stress induces addiction and relapse.

My clinical mentor, Dr. Peter Martin, is a psychiatrist and the director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. His clinical interests include the treatment of drug use disorders with an emphasis on substance-induced mental disorders. My work with Dr. Martin will allow me to enhance my understanding of the complex causes that contribute to drug use relapse, which will allow me to enhance our animal models of this condition.