The Conti Laboratory studies the mechanisms of alcohol action in the traumatically-injured brain. Using rodent models, experiments are designed to examine ethanol action at the cellular level and to define the signaling pathways that mediate the synaptic response to ethanol. Additional studies are aimed to examine ethanol-related behaviors, such as binge consumption and withdrawal. Of particular interest are the proteins, adenylyl cyclase 1 and 8, which promote neuronal survival in the neonatal brain following ethanol treatment in a model of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and mediate ethanol-induced neuroplasticity. Together, these studies provide the basis for the identification of protein targets of alcohol which can be used to develop interventions for the alcohol-damaged brain.
Our lab has also begun to study opioids, using animal models of TBI to identify how combined exposure to brain injury and morphine affect pain behavior and targets of opioid action in the brain - opioid receptor signaling and neuroinflammation (immune system activation). Due to the complexity of the neuronal and behavioral processes assessed, these studies rely on intact living systems. These projects address the critical need for an understanding of the mechanisms by which opioids administered post-TBI might alter later pain states and uphold the mission for VA patient care and rehabilitation to improve/expand the effective treatment options for individuals suffering from TBI.