Todd E. Thiele, Ph.D.
Behavioral Neuroscience Program in the Department of Psychology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
My laboratory is interested in determining a) what changes occur in the brain over the course of repeated ethanol consumption, b) if these changes, which may initially be transient, become rigid or long-last with greater ethanol exposure, and c) if these changes in brain neurocircuitry contribute to uncontrolled ethanol intake that is characteristically associated with ethanol dependence. Our pre-clinical research focuses on the role of neuropeptides, neurochemicals which have been shown to modulate the reinforcing properties of natural rewards (such as food and sex) and to play a role in regulating emotional responses. A growing body of literature suggests that ethanol usurps or “hijacks” the brain neurocircuitry that modulates emotions and responses to natural rewards, causing long-term changes that are associated with abnormal function. These changes trigger negative emotions and cause natural rewards to lose their reinforcing value, both outcomes which are thought to trigger uncontrolled ethanol intake. We hope that by identifying how the brain changes over the course of heavy ethanol use, we may help identify pharmaceutical approaches that may prevent individuals that abuse ethanol from progressing to a state of ethanol dependence.