Our Research Team

Our research team focuses on an examination of the effects of abused drugs on the developing brain.

Although the group has worked extensively with other abused drugs, the current emphasis is on nicotine, the psychoactive component of tobacco. Epidemiological studies have shown that adolescence is a critical time for the initiation of tobacco use and that earlier onset of smoking increases the risk for lifetime usage.

We have shown through animal models that nicotine has unique biological effects at this age, and that brief exposure of adolescents to nicotine enhances the rewarding properties of other drugs. We are currently studying underlying mechanisms.

Mechanisms under investigation include identifying the roles of dopaminergic, serotonergic, opioidergic and epigenetic factors underlying the behavioral observations.

Another focus of our lab is the role of tobacco constituents in addiction. Tobacco use has one of the highest rates of addiction and relapse of any abused drug, but the animal models used to study tobacco addiction reveal nicotine to be weakly reinforcing. This phenomenon has led our team to hypothesize that nicotine may interact with other constituents in tobacco smoke to produce its addictive effects.

We are currently evaluating the effects of tobacco constituents on reward and dependence as well as elucidating the underlying neurochemical mechanisms.

Our Training

We aim to train UCI post-doctoral scholars, graduate and undergraduate students through selective one-on-one instruction with interactive bench-to-bedside translational research studies in the discipline of developmental neuropsychopharmacology, with the integration of molecular neurobiology, pharmacology, neurochemistry, brain imaging and/or behavior. The goal is to provide a unique opportunity for scholars & students to study how simple molecules and complex environments interact to influence brain and behavior in animal models of addiction, with translational relevance to the adolescent human population.

We believe our unique environment will provide innovative, one-of-a-kind training to assist scholars & students to have personal and scientific skills that will lead them to success in their future careers.

Professor Frances Leslie And Our Research Team Welcome You To The University Of California, Irvine!