I am originally from: Iowa City, Iowa
Today, I live in: Culver City, California
My Undergraduate Degree was in: My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California.
My Other degrees are: I pursued a United States Fulbright Fellowship, where I attained a Master in Medical Science degree at the University of Queensland, School of Pharmacy, Brisbane, Australia.
My Graduate Degree was in: Through the United States Fulbright Fellowship, I became fascinated by neurobiology. This led to graduate studies at the University of California, where I studied the consequences of developmental exposure to nicotine and the role of other constituents in tobacco smoke that interact with nicotine to mediate addiction. My graduate work was followed by a post-doctoral fellowship in the United Kingdom examining the effects of maternal cigarette smoking on the brain and behavior of adolescent offspring (www.saguenay-youth-study.org/). Overall, these experiences instilled a deep desire to understand the molecular and cellular pathways influencing tobacco addiction.
I currently work at: I am pursuing a National Institute of Mental Health T-32 post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California - Los Angeles (www.ucla.edu).
About My Work:
My field of study is: Anxiety/Addictive Disorders - more specifically: Identifying specific nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) in the brain that are responsible for tobacco addiction and withdrawal.
I enjoy this because: It is clear that new and innovative strategies are needed to assist in smoking prevention and cessation programs and discoveries obtained through molecular and genetic studies will no doubt assist in the pursuit of this goal.
I am currently working on: With support provided by the NARSAD Young Investigator Award, my research at the UCLA Hatos Center for Neuropharmacology (http://www.semel.ucla.edu/hatos), will focus on identifying specific nicotinic receptors (nAChRs) in the brain that are responsible for tobacco addiction and withdrawal. In particular, much of my research will focus on nAChR subtypes assembled from the α2 nAChR subunit gene (Chrna2), which is one of eleven different nAChR subunit genes expressed in the human brain.
Transcription of the Chrna2 gene is most active in the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN), a brain region receiving extensive cholinergic innervation from the medial habenula and known for its association with drug reward and withdrawal. Previous work has shown that Chrna2 'knockout' mice exhibit two significant phenotypes: a loss of nicotine-evoked facilitation of hippocampal long-term potentiation (a process important for the formation of memories), and a complete absence of aversive somatic withdrawal behaviors following cessation of chronic nicotine treatment.
The induction of nicotine dependence and expression of withdrawal are complex physiological processes with unique behavioral consequences. There is no doubt that chronic nicotine treatment induces long-term neurophysiological changes that involve multiple nAChR subtypes and a variety of neuroanatomical loci and circuits. However, experiments using Chrna2 null mutant mice should provide answers to two interesting questions: First, is the nAChR α2-subunit absolutely required for expression of aversive symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal? And second, are α2-expressing neurons within the IPN sufficient for induction of nicotine dependence and expression of withdrawal?
In addition, several questions can be addressed using our mouse model including: What is the subunit composition of the native α2-containing nAChR required for withdrawal? Do identified neurons in specific regions of the IPN express more than one nAChR subtype? And, among the α2-containing subtypes, what nAChR β-subunit is required for induction of dependence and withdrawal? Are the levels of other nAChR transcripts in IPN neurons altered by chronic nicotine treatment? Or, by the genotype of specific nAChR null mutant mice?
We hope results from our studies will provide a rationale for designing α2-subtype specific antagonists to help minimize the discomfort associated with withdrawal, and thereby decrease the incidence of relapse and the plethora of health problems associated with long-term tobacco abuse. Our results may also identify how specific nAChR subunit genes influence individual susceptibility to tobacco abuse.
More About Me:
Right Handed or Left Handed: Right Handed.
What is your favorite word? α2-subunit.
What place in the world would you most like to visit? Peninsula Papagayo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Do you have any nicknames? None of any significance.
What was the last song that played on your iPod? My iPod is still in its wrapper! One day, I may finally start using it.
Favorite TV show: For a while ‘24’ and ‘Lost’ were tied as favorites, however, recently ‘V’ and ‘The Biggest Looser’ are high on the list.
Desk: messy or organized? I feel I am working harder if my desk appears messy, but generally, I like my desk organized.
How many languages can you speak and what are they? I speak Farsi and English
Do you play any instruments? I have “attempted” to play guitar for over a decade now. I definitely admire those who express this particular talent.
Your Perfect Pizza: Italian Sausage, pepperoni, bell peppers, and extra cheese – with a home made crust. My wife makes a mean pizza!
If I was not doing what I am doing today, I might be working as: A director and writer of theater and films.
Here is what I'd like to share with the world: Tobacco addiction affects billions of people worldwide. In the United States alone the associated health consequences cost an estimated 100 billion dollars annually and over 400,000 people lose their lives each year because of tobacco-related disease. It is clear that new and innovative strategies are needed to assist in smoking prevention and cessation programs and discoveries obtained through molecular and genetic studies will no doubt assist in the pursuit of this goal. Thank you for supporting our group towards this direction.
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