Metabolic Therapies and Drug Addiction: This project focuses on the effects of a ketogenic diet on behavioral responses to drugs of abuse. The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate and adequate protein diet that has shown therapeutic potential in disease states and disorders as diverse as epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Although the specific mechanisms of action for this diet remain to be fully elucidated, its positive impacts on energy metabolism and neuroinflammation suggest that it may also be an effective therapy for drug addiction. Studies in rats are currently underway to determine if this is indeed the case.

Behavioral Effects of Prenatal Exposure to the Ketogenic Diet: As the ketogenic and similar diets gain popularity among individuals of child-bearing age, it is important that we gain a better understanding of the lasting consequences of gestational exposure to these diets on the developing offspring. This is of particular interest since environmental perturbations during pregnancy have been implicated in the etiology of many development disorders (e.g., autism and schizophrenia). In this project, mice will receive gestational exposure to the ketogenic diet and then will be tested later in life to determine how prenatal exposure affects social, sexual, and cognitive functioning in these animals.

Sex Differences in Drug Addiction During Adolescence: Although drug addiction affects both sexes, there is evidence that this disorder develops and progresses differently in males vs. females. One factor that may underlie these sex differences is the differential exposure to sex steroid hormones across the two sexes. Indeed, a growing body of literature suggests that responses to drugs of abuse in females is strongly influenced by levels of estrogen and progesterone. This project uses rat models to determine how sex steroid hormones act on the brain’s reward systems during adolescence to ultimately establish sex differences in drug addiction.