At the Porrino Lab we strive to answer an elusive question:

Can the brain recover from addiction?

We have documented numerous brain changes that result from the chronic insult of repeated drug use, including impairments of learning, decision making, executive function, decreased dopamine D2 receptors and decreased brain activity measured via PET imaging.

But what happens when people stop using drugs? Is there recovery? How does the brain adapt to the absence of drugs? Using animal models of cocaine self-administration, we have demonstrated compensatory changes in dopamine and glutamate systems but that changes in functional brain activity may persist for very long periods of time. Current studies address the question: Are there medications that can reverse the changes or improve compensatory brain mechanisms that may allow the restoration of more normal brain function after abstinence?

Other recent investigations include studies of the cognitive, affective and neurofunctional changes that occur during ongoing substance abuse of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

Using fMRI we have shown that the patterns of brain activity of current cocaine users are disrupted not only in those regions that code reward and motivational information but also in dorsal striatal networks involved in motor function.

We have also shown that heavy marijuana users have impaired affective processing in which they show blunted responses to emotional information. We are currently assessing how this impacts brain activity during other behaviors such as decision making and social interactions.


Members of the Porrino Lab