Research in the Van Bockstaele Laboratory is aimed at understanding the role of monoaminergic systems in stress-related illness and substance abuse disorders. We have discovered important cellular adaptations in noradrenergic and serotonergic circuits following exposure to abused substances (e.g. opiates, cannabinoids, alcohol and psychostimulants) that have advanced our understanding of the pathophysiology of addiction.
Our laboratory has unveiled the complex circuitry by which stress-related neuropeptides and endogenous opioids co-regulate activity of the locus coeruleus (LC)-norepinephrine (NE) system and how chronic morphine, or stress, disturbs this regulation. Stress has been implicated as a risk factor in vulnerability to the initiation and maintenance of opiate abuse and is thought to play an important role in relapse in subjects with a history of abuse. Conversely, chronic opiate use and withdrawal are stressors and can potentially predispose individuals to stress-related psychiatric disorders. Because the interaction of opiates with stress response systems has potentially widespread clinical consequences, our laboratory is defining how specific substrates of the stress response and endogenous opioid systems interact and the specific points at which stress circuits and endogenous opioid systems intersect.
Another focus of the laboratory is aimed at understanding how norepinephrine (NE) regulates amyloid beta (Aβ), a protein that aggregates to form senile plaques, a primary component of Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology. As one of the most severely affected brain regions in AD, we are investigating how stress-induced dysregulation of the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC), a brain region that supplies NE to the entire neuraxis results in aberrant accumulation of Aβ and contributes to disease progression.
The technical repertoire in the laboratory includes neuroanatomical circuit-tracing studies, ultrastructural characterization of transmitters, peptides and receptors as well as biochemical, molecular, pharmacological and behavioral strategies. Our research involves mostly preclinical investigation but also includes the exploration of biomarkers in clinical investigations. Our research approach is collaborative and we routinely work with other investigators in the pursuit of knowledge using a multi-disciplinary scientific approach.
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