The overall goal of my research has been to contribute to the understanding of learning mechanisms involved in motivated behaviors, in particular sexual behavior and drug-taking behavior. Both of these behaviors are heavily influenced by specific stimuli in the environment. Therefore, the main focus of my behavioral research has been on how environmental cues come to control and modify these highly motivated behaviors. In addition, because in humans, there appears to be some relationship between drug taking behavior and risky sexual behavior, I have recently become interested in the causal relationship between these behaviors and the mechanisms that underlies this interaction.



Prior research supported by a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) from NIDA has involved using a preclinical model to assess the role of visual cues in drug reward and relapse.  This research has particular relevance to drug taking behavior and relapse in humans because there is evidence that cues in the environment may become associated with drug taking.  Later, in the absence of the drug, these cues may trigger a conditioned response that may serve to motivate behavior towards drug seeking and ultimately relapse.  Although rodents have been the typical species used to investigate drug reward, they may not be ideal for investigations of drug reward that specifically address the role of visual cues.  In our studies, we use Japanese quail as our preclinical model.  Japanese quail have a well-developed visual system with color vision and findings from our laboratory indicate that they respond similarly to cocaine as mammals and have a similar dopaminergic system.



More recently, research in my laboratory has been focused on investigating the relationship between drugs of abuse and sexual behavior.  There is considerable evidence for a co-morbid relationship between cocaine abuse and risky sexual behaviors in humans.  Clinical studies have shown a strong correlation between cocaine use and risky sexual practices such as increased frequency, an increased number of partners, and unprotected sex.  These sexual practices have been linked to adverse health consequences including high prevalence rates for sexually-transmitted diseases.  Controlled preclinical studies, including one conducted in our laboratory has demonstrated that prior repeated exposure to cocaine enhances sexual motivation and behavior.  However, no parametric or systematic studies further investigating the basic mechanisms underlying this relationship have been conducted.  We are planning a series of experiments using male Japanese quail because they are visually-oriented and because their sexual response system and neurohormonal system have been well studied.  The findings of these experiments will serve to inform clinical observations about the basic mechanisms that underlie the interaction between sex and cocaine use. 

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Japanese Quail