Throughout our lives, we are subjected to various types of experiences or events that will shape our subsequent behaviors or even lead to chronic psychiatric diseases. As a model of life experience, our research focuses on both the cellular mechanisms through which exposure to psychostimulant drugs (e.g. cocaine) leads to addiction and those involved in learning and memory. Indeed, after cessation of drug taking, memories associated with drug exposure can trigger drug craving for the substance and precipitate relapse. Currently, we have a keen interest in cellular mechanisms responsible for the development and perpetuation of drug addiction—one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in the world.
Without accounting devastating consequences on the family structure, in Canada only, the societal and economic burden of mental illness (including drug addiction) is estimated at $51 billion per year. Considering that about 41% of high school students in Quebec have used drugs of abuse in the past 12 months (all drugs included), the risk of developing dependency in the younger generation are high. Despite decades of research, treatments remain symptomatic, and a significant proportion of addicted individuals appears resistant to treatment. Diversifying pharmacotherapies could address this gap. To this end, one must first identify novel mechanisms of action of drugs of abuse. Such mechanisms will then pave the way to novel and combinatory pharmacotherapies to treat addiction or to provide alternatives for treatment-resistant drug abuse.
The research in my laboratory aims to identify these mechanisms, and use an integrative approach combining biochemistry, molecular biology, behavioral pharmacology, electrophysiology, and animal models of addiction to understand better their contribution to the development and perpetuation of drug addiction. The power of our work lies in its ability to inform both biological mechanisms and translational relevance to impact the clinical problem of addiction.