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Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience

Pilot Program Grantees

The Pilot Program is to aid investigators in generating data, with the assistance of Center Research Cores, for the submission of competitive, extramural grant applications linked to the overall theme of psychiatric neuroscience. Funds are available via Pilot Projects or Pilot Vouchers for research into the basic science mechanisms of psychiatric and neuropsychiatric disorders including disorders of mood or alcohol and substance dependence, neurological disorders, autism, cancer of the CNS and the role of vasculature on CNS function.

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Ian Webb, PhD - Assistant Professor

Project Investigator (08/01/14-07/01/16) - Circadian regulation of drug reward: Diurnal rhythms in mesolimbic neural firing and drug-seeking

It is well recognized that the responsiveness to drugs of abuse varies across the day. The long-term objective of our research is to understand the mechanisms underlying diurnal variations in drug reward and their influences on the development and expression of drug addiction. This research program may ultimately provide novel insights into the pathophysiology of addiction and suggest new strategies for the treatment of addictive disorders.

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Kedra Wallace, PhD - Assistant Professor

Project Investigator (Awarded 8/01/14-7/31/16) - HELLP Syndrome

Decreases in associative memory and increases in depression and anxiety have been reported in women with a history of HELLP syndrome. They also have increased inflammatory cytokines which in other systems have been linked to depression and cognitive changes. The studies outlined in this project will evaluate an animal model of HELLP syndrome to determine if suppression of CD4+ T cells or inflammatory cytokines during pregnancy, through administration of Orencia (Abatacept) or dexamethasone, improves blood brain barrier permeability, thereby decreasing neuroinflammation and improving behavioral changes in rats with a history of HELLP syndrome.
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Javier Miguel-Hidalgo, PhD - Associate Professor

Pilot Voucher Recipient (Awarded 11/01/14-10/30/15) - ShRNA-mediated suppression of gap junction protein Connexin 43 

“Voucher funds will test the hypothesis that a novel experimental approach can be used to target astrocytes to suppress the expression of the protein connexin 43 in the prefrontal cortex of the rat.”

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Daniela Rueedi-Bettschen, PhD - Instructor

Project Investigator(Awarded 08/01/14-07/31/16) - Long-term consequences of in utero methamphetamine exposure

Methamphetamine (METH) abuse is a major public health threat that has reached epidemic levels in rural Southern and Midwestern Regions in the United States and world-wide. Almost half of all METH users are women of childbearing age and a proportion of those use the drug throughout pregnancy, putting the fetus at serious risk for developmental and behavioral impairments. The experiments proposed in this application will provide vital information regarding which factors of in utero METH exposure contribute to the impairment of the offspring. These results will serve public health interests by providing knowledge which may lead to the development of effective interventions to improve the well-being of drug abusing pregnant women and protect their highly vulnerable offspring.

Matthew Tull, PhD 

Project investigator (Awarded 9/22/15-7/1/16) - “Genetics in the Relation between PTSD and Trauma Cue-Evoked Cocaine Attentional Bias.”

Evidence for genetic factors that may influence trauma cue-induced attentional bias to cocaine cues among cocaine dependent patients with PTSD would help identify specific patients that are at heightened risk for relapse and other negative clinical outcomes. Results of this study would also highlight the need to develop interventions focused on improving emotion regulation for this at-risk group of patients that can be integrated into standard substance use disorder treatment programs. Finally, by examining moderators and mechanisms that may underlie negative substance use-related outcomes among cocaine dependent PTSD patients in Mississippi, the results of this study may aid in the development and refinement of interventions for an underserved population in need of more health-care resources.

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Eric Vallender, Ph.D.-Associate Professor

Project Investigator (Awarded 01/02/2017-07/31/2018)-Molecular mechanisms in the prefrontal Cortex of impulsivity-medicated suicide risk.  

The goal of this project is to identify and characterize the molecular changes in the frontal cortex that are associated with suicidality amoung individuals with mood disorders.  This will allow for better identification of at risk individuals, more tailored treatment options for these individuals, and for exploring new avenues for drug targets.  Finally, it will help us better understand the molecular basis of frontal cortex exective function.  

Mohadetheh Moulana, Ph.D.-Assistant Professor

Project Investigator (Awarded:  01/11/2017-07-31/2018)-Hyperandrogenemia and depression:  Role of inflammatory cytokines

My research project goal is to validate an animal model to further understand the mechanism(s) of depression and anxiety in women with polycyctic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  Depression and anxiety are common findings in women with PCOS that greatly increase risk of cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer's disease.  I have a unique animal model with hyperandrogenemia that mimics PCOS in women and facilitates the study of PCOS-mediated depression.  I propose that inflammatory immune cells (T-cells) and inflammation play a role in mediating depression and anxiety in hyperandrogenemia female (HAF) rats.  Inflammatory cells release proteins that can cause inflammation and tissue damage and lead to blood brain barrier damage.  

Sally Huskinson, Ph.D.-Instructor

Project Investigator (Awarded:  08/01/2017-07/31/2018-Unpredictable drug availabilty as a determinant of drug abuse. 

 My research project goal is to examine whether the predictablility of drug availability is a powerful contributing factor of cocaine's reinforcing effects and gene expression.  Results from this research will have key implications for the extent to which unpredictable access is a contributing factor to deleterious behavioral and neurobiological effects resulting from cocaine exposure.