The successful use of drugs for the treatment of psychiatric disorders has become widespread since the 1950s. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat severe psychiatric illnesses, psychoses and manias, while antidepressants (mood elevating agents) and mood stabilizing drugs are used to treat affective or mood disorders. Although these drugs are on the whole effective, the precise processes underlying their activity are not fully understood. As a result, they may cause a range of side effects, many harmful, for which physicians often do not have a solution. Our research aims at elucidating the mechanisms responsible for the relative effectiveness of antidepressant, antipsychotic and antianxiety drugs. Using a molecular approaches we try to reach a deeper understanding of brain functioning and the various processes underlying drug activity.
New insights into our understanding of drug abuse and addiction have resolved that the desire for drugs and the development of addiction depend on the specific effects of the drugs on brain function. Drugs of abuse have been shown to interact with the reward circuit including the mesolimbic dopamine system and the central nucleus of the amygdale. Opioids, cannabis, hallucinogens, psychostimulants (cocaine, ecstasy and Ritalin) and sedatives alter multiple neurotransmitter systems in this circuitry, including dopamine, glutamate, GABA, serotonin, cannabinoid receptors, opioid and nicotine receptors as well as presynaptic monoamine transporters. Repeated and prolonged drug abuse leads to a progressive dysregulation of brain reward system, alterations in receptors and transporters expression and a recruitment of brain stress system such as CRH. The molecular mechanisms of signal transduction in these neural systems are likely to be targets for the development of novel therapeutic strategies.Our research is endeavouring to shed more light on the neurobiological mechanisms involved in addictive behaviour. Using a molecular and cellular approach we try to reach a deeper understanding of addiction-related brain functioning and the various processes underlying drug addiction.
Current research projects in the lab:
- The effect of chronic treatment using antidepressants and antipsychotics on brain pre-synaptic transporters for monoamines (serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline).
- The regulation of the brain vesicular monoamine transporter by psychotropic drugs.
- The involvement of neuronal pre-synaptic mechanisms in the mode of action of cocaine and methylphenidate (Ritalin)
- Characterization of the serotonin transporter and the vesicular monoamine transporter in peripheral blood cells (platelets and lymphocytes) and its application to psychosis and depression.
- Investigation of the neurochemical basis of Hypericum perforatum (the herbSt. John’s wort) antidepressant efficacy. Extracts of Hypericum are natural products, non-toxic and clinically effective in treating mild to moderate depression.
- Investigation of the anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects of a novel herbal treatment, developed in our laboratory .The study includes both behavioral and pharmacological methods.
- Studying thiamine deficiency in rats as a model for cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to selective neuronal loss caused by oxidative deficits.
- Development of a new anti-platelet drug (to prevent aggregation) based on a modified specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor