Title: Neurobiological mechanisms underlying vulnerability to drug abuse
Maria Mavrikaki, PhD (Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, USA)
Time/location: March 18th, Monday between 12:40-13:30 at FEASS A130
Abstract: Prescription opioids are used medically to treat pain but have a high potential for abuse. Over the last decade, opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in the US and is currently showing an increasing trend in Turkey. Thus, the opioid epidemic has highlighted an urgent need to understand the neurobiological mechanisms underlying opioid abuse and the development of opioid use disorder so that effective treatments can be developed. Drugs of abuse can change the expression of hundreds of genes in the brain, and one recently discovered way this can happen is through regulation of small molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs; small non-coding RNAs). MiRNAs regulate gene expression and recent evidence suggests that those molecules (miRNAs) are involved in addictive behaviors and stress response. Our studies support that a specific molecule (miR-9) increases prescription opioid (oxycodone) addictive-like behaviors in male rats. Additional studies show that a social stressor in adolescent rats changes the expression of miRNAs in the brain and some of those stress-regulated molecules are also involved in addiction pathways. Taken together, our studies revealed previously unknown mechanisms underlying stress response and vulnerability to opioid addiction. Future research will utilize those results to assess the contribution of stress-regulated molecules in addictive-like behavior and ultimately develop novel pharmacotherapies to address the opioid epidemic.
Biography: Maria Mavrikaki, PhD, studied psychology and neuroscience at the University of Crete in Greece. After obtaining her PhD, she pursued a post-doctoral research fellow position at The Scripps Research Institute in Scripps (Florida, USA), where she utilized genetic mouse models to study mechanisms underlying motivation for food. She joined McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Massachusetts, USA) as a post-doctoral research fellow in 2014 and was promoted to assistant neuroscientist at McLean Hospital and instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in 2017. Dr. Mavrikaki studies neurobiological mechanisms underlying prescription opioid addiction-like behavior in rats. She was awarded the 2015 Jonathan Edward Brooking Award for Mental Health Research from McLean Hospital to develop her project. More recently, she was awarded the 2017-2018 Eleanor and Miles Shore Harvard Medical School Fellowship.