Brandon J. Aragona, Ph.D.             cirriculum vitae

Evolution has favored brains that produce robust motivated behaviors. This broad perspective serves as the foundation for my two specific lines of research. The first is focused on the neural regulation of a highly adaptive social behavior, monogamous pair bonding. The second is focused on the neural regulation of a maladaptive behavior, taking addictive drugs.

Prairie voles are a monogamous rodent species that mate for life. My previous work has demonstrated that this behavior is controlled by brain circuitry that is essential for reward processing (including reward associated with addictive drugs). Most recently, we have shown that abused drugs are less rewarding to prairie voles that are pair bonded. Prairie voles are therefore both an excellent model for studies of the neurobiology of social attachment and for investigation of interactions between social behavior and drug reward.

Addictive drugs powerfully control behavior because they target neural circuitry that controls motivated behavior essential for survival. I am very interested in how drugs, such as cocaine, alter this circuitry. In particular, I use state-of-the-art measurement technology (fast-scan cyclic voltammetry) to assess real-time dopamine transmission while rats receive drug infusions and learn that certain environmental cues predict drug delivery.

The main questions to be addressed by future research are:

  • What changes in the brain control the formation and maintenance of a monogamous pair bond?
  • How is dopamine transmission altered during social interactions?
  • How is drug reward influenced by adaptive social behavior?
  • What mechanisms control increased dopamine signaling with drug intake?
  • What is the role of specific regions of the brain during learning and memory associated with drug taking?
  • What makes certain individuals highly susceptible to drug reward?
  • What protective steps (especially of a social nature) can be taken to lessen the development of drug addiction?