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Welcome new lab members!

This summer, Ashley White, a MD/PhD student will begin her work in the lab funded through the Professional Student Mentored Research Fellowship Program from the University of Kentucky CCTS. We also welcome Ashley Craig, a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky with a major in Neuroscience. Ashley was recently awarded the NIDA Summer Undergraduate Internship to work on neuroimmune mechanisms of nicotine use in the lab this summer. We are so excited to have you both join us!

Ashley White
Ashley Craig

New publication! Maher et al., 2022

Maher, Kipp, Leyrer-Jackson, Khatri, Bondy, Martinez, Beckmann, Hinds, Bimonte-Nelson, & Gipson (2022). Ovarian Hormones Regulate Nicotine Consumption and Accumbens Glutamatergic Plasticity in Female Rats. eNeuro, Jun 27;9(3):ENEURO.0286-21.2022. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0286-21.2022.


Women report greater cigarette cravings during the menstrual cycle phase with higher circulating levels of 17β-estradiol (E2), which is metabolized to estrone (E1). Both E2 and E1 bind to estrogen receptors (ERs), which have been highly studied in the breast, uterus, and ovary. Recent studies have found that ERs are also located on GABAergic medium spiny neurons (MSNs) within the nucleus accumbens core (NAcore). Glutamatergic plasticity in NAcore MSNs is altered following nicotine use; however, it is unknown whether estrogens impact this neurobiological consequence. To test the effect of estrogen on nicotine use, we ovariectomized (OVX) female rats that then underwent nicotine self-administration acquisition and compared them to ovary-intact (sham) rats. The OVX animals then received either sesame oil (vehicle), E2, or E1+E2 supplementation for 4 or 20 d before nicotine sessions. While both ovary-intact and OVX females readily discriminated levers, OVX females consumed less nicotine than sham females. Further, neither E2 nor E1+E2 increased nicotine consumption back to sham levels following OVX, regardless of the duration of the treatment. OVX also rendered NAcore MSNs in a potentiated state following nicotine self-administration, which was reversed by 4 d of systemic E2 treatment. Finally, we found that E2 and E1+E2 increased ERα mRNA in the NAcore, but nicotine suppressed this regardless of hormone treatment. Together, these results show that estrogens regulate nicotine neurobiology, but additional factors may be required to restore nicotine consumption to ovary-intact levels.

New Grant Awarded!

We were awarded a new R21 grant from NIDA, titled ” Contributions of Progestins Independently and Interactively with Contraceptive Estrogen to Nicotine Use”. A collaboration with Drs. Heather Bimonte-Nelson (ASU) and Josh Beckmann (UK)!

Check out our talks at CPDD 2022!

We have 3 (!!!) oral presentations at College on Problems of Drug Dependence in Minneapolis, MN this year! Please come see us if you can!

  • Dr. Erin Maher:
Chronic Administration of Synthetic Contraceptive Hormones Alters Nicotine Consumption in an Ethanol Co-Use Model in Ovary-Intact Female Rats. Oral Communication: Nicotine Co-Use Oral Presentation. Tuesday 4 PM – 4:15 PM .Symphony Ballroom III
  • Dr. Shailesh Khatri:
Cocaine Use During Oxycodone Withdrawal Reduces Somatic Signs of Withdrawal and is Associated With Aberrant Accumbens Glutamatergic Plasticity. Oral Communication: Trends in Polysubstance Use. Oral Presentation. Sunday 7:45 PM – 8 PM .Conrad BC
  • Emma Bondy:
Chemogenetic Inhibition of Accumbens Microglia Reduces Nicotine Seeking. Oral Communication: Neuroscience of SUDs I. Oral Presentation. Monday 4 PM – 4:15 PM .Orchestra AB