Projects in the Nixon lab are clustered under three major lines of work:
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly called alcoholism, is a growing public health problem though pharmacological treatments are not widely successful. People drink to excess for a variety of reasons necessitating a variety of approaches for successful treatment. The majority of pharmacological treatments for AUDs target motivational behaviors of drug use, but targeting this aspect of abuse/addiction alone has not been widely successful. We continue to take the novel approach of examining neuroprotective agents that promote plasticity to repair or protect the brain from alcohol-induced damage.
One region of alcohol neurotoxicity is in behavioral control circuitry which includes the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. We hypothesize that damage to this circuit essentially releases a brake on the dysfunctional, compulsive drive of the mesolimbic dopamine system.
Thus, the Nixon Lab has focused on two mechanistic areas relevant to hippocampal structure and function: (1) the role of adult neural stem cells in alcoholic neuropathology and recovery in abstinence and (2) the role microglia play in the adolescent’s enhanced susceptibility to developing an alcohol use disorder.
Our third area encompasses our collaborative drug discovery work, which has focused heavily on novel neuroprotectants but also target-agnostic screening of novel compounds and natural products to treat alcohol and nicotine co-abuse.
Approaches utilize novel or state-of-the-art histological, biochemical and behavioral techniques in ex vivo, in vitro and in vivo models of AUDs.