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©2016 by Nikki Crowley

WHAT WE'RE WORKING ON

Work in the Crowley Lab focuses on understanding behavioral and physiological brain states involved in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and addiction. We use a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological, and genetic approaches to inform the basic science of disease etiology, treatment, and prevention.

INVESTIGATION OF THE ROLE OF SOMATOSTATIN NEURONS IN ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

FUNDED BY NARSAD YOUNG INVESTIGATOR GRANT (BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR RESEARCH FOUNDATION) & THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH INSTITUTE (PENN STATE)

Alcoholism and major depressive disorder (MDD) are highly comorbid disorders, both of which are major health and social concerns—costing the US a combined $300 billion each year. Homeostatic perturbations in neuronal systems are thought to underlie both alcoholism and MDD, and interestingly, important sex differences are seen in both diseases, with women being more likely to suffer depression and more likely to suffer from the negative long-term consequences of drinking. 

 

Intervention strategies that target specific brain regions or groups of neurons holds the promise of treatments with fewer side effects, resulting in greater adherence to treatment and fewer social complications. In order to create such treatments, the field needs a deeper understanding of the brain regions and even specific neurons within the region. Funded by the Penn State Social Science Research Institute, this project seeks to identify, in both mice and humans, the role of specific types of neurons in the overlapping etiology of depression and alcohol addiction in both males and females. 

Ongoing work in the lab combines optogenetics, chemogenetics, behavior, and electrophysiology to understand how stomatostatin neurons throughout the brain may play a role in binge drinking.

INVESTIGATION OF KEY OPIOID PATHWAYS MODULATED BY ADOLESCENT CHRONIC VARIABLE STRESS

FUNDED BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM, THE CLINICAL AND TRANSLATIONA SCIENCES INSTITUTE, THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, AND THE CONSORTIUM TO COMBAT SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Adolescent stress is a key risk factor for drug abuse in adulthood. Though many maladaptive and drug-addiction related outcomes following stress are known, it is unclear precisely how the brain is altered following stress to escalate drug addiction. Accumulating evidence indicates that adolescent stress causes changes in the developing limbic and cortical structures in the brain, regions heavily involved in the progression of drug intake to drug abuse. This project outlines the consequences of adolescent stress on the brain's neurotransmitter systems and their interactions with opioid receptors.

Collaborators:

Dr. Helen Kamens, Health and Human Development

Dr. Kevin Alloway,  College of Medicine

BEHAVIORAL PREDICTORS OF NEURONAL SIGNALING

FUNDED BY PENN STATE 

Though many individuals exhibit high performance and positive outcomes, some develop alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other diseases that negatively impact both their health and performance. While some behavioral predictors have emerged to help predict future performance, little is known about the neural functioning that underlies those behaviors—a significant limitation for the development of effective screening and intervention. We have begun to use statistical modeling to predict neuronal signaling based on measurable behavioral traits, allowing greater prediction of future behavioral performance, as well as personalized treatment options. This work uses leading edge methods in neuroscience and statistical modeling to understand how basal anxiety-like behavior may predict underlying neurophysiological states in an animal model. The Crowley Lab uses animal models to predict neuronal signaling in the prelimbic cortex (PLC), a key brain region governing anxiety and executive control of advanced behaviors related to soldier performance. This innovative work has key implications for the Army including understanding how to pre-identify both strong performers and those at risk for complications based on behavior and brain signaling. Future work will support development of personalized medicine and treatment for various disorders, including drug addiction and PTSD—based on initial predicted brain states that occurred prior to the development of these disorders.

PREVIOUS WORK

KETAMINE AS A NOVEL TREATMENT FOR BINGE DRINKING

FUNDED BY THE SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH INSTITUTE (PENN STATE) AND THE COLLEGE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

POST-DOCTORAL MENTOR: BERNHARD LUSCHER

KAPPA OPIOID RECEPTOR CONTROL OF AMYGDALA ANXIETY CIRCUITS

FUNDED BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM

GRADUATE MENTOR: THOMAS KASH