Darlene H. Brunzell, Ph.D.

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Darlene BrunzellAssociate Professor
410 North 12th Street
R. Blackwell Smith Building Room 738
Box 980613
Richmond, Virginia 23298-0613
Phone: (804) 628-7584
Fax: (804) 828-2117
Email: darlene.brunzell@vcuhealth.org

Education: University of Massachusetts, 1999

Research interests: Neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse and mental illness; Mechanisms of learning and memory; Developmental Toxicology; Sex differences

Drug addiction and diseases such as schizophrenia are multifaceted disorders that are sensitive to genetic vulnerability as well as to environmental factors. Our work combines genetic and pharmacological techniques with various behavioral components of drug addiction and mental illness. This strategy enables us to elucidate the neurochemical and molecular mechanisms of complex behaviors relevant to drug addiction and mental illness as well as to identify mechanistically how these disorders overlap. One focus of the laboratory is to identify the contributions of various nicotinic receptor subunits to the primary rewarding effects of nicotine versus nicotinic receptor regulation of anxiety-like behavior. Our studies show that behaviors associated with nicotine use are uniquely affected by activation and inhibition of diverse nicotinic receptor subtypes. From a therapeutic perspective, these findings may lead to more targeted treatments for smoking cessation. This is accomplished with a combination of techniques that manipulate target genes in behaving animals as well as studies that use molecular and neurochemical endpoints. We are additionally interested in contributions of sex to drug addiction and related illness and on the effects of drug exposure on the developing brain. Focusing on intracellular signaling pathways, neurotrophins and inflammatory cytokines, our ongoing studies are assessing the mechanisms by which exercise serves to promote nicotine cessation and prevention in adolescent males and females.

Selected publications:

Anderson, S.M. & Brunzell, D.H. (2012). Low dose nicotine and antagonism of β2 subunit containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have similar effects on affective behavior in mice. PLoS ONE 7(11):e48665.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048665.

Brunzell, D.H. & McIntosh, J.M. (2012) Alpha 7 nicotinic receptors regulate motivation to self-administer nicotine: implications for smoking and schizophrenia. Neuropsychopharmacology. Apr;37(5):1134-43. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.299. PMCID: PMC3306875.

Brunzell, D. H., Boschen, K. E., Hendrick, E. S., Beardsley, P. M., McIntosh, J. M. (2010) Alpha conotoxin MII-sensitive nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the nucleus accumbens shell regulate progressive ratio responding maintained by nicotine. Neuropsychopharmacology, Feb;35(3):665-73. Epub 2009 Nov 4. PMCID: PMC2821821.

Brunzell, D. H., Mineur, Y. S., Neve, R. L., Picciotto, M. R. (2009) Nucleus accumbens CREB activity is necessary for nicotine conditioned place preference. Neuropsychopharmacology, Jul;34(8):1993-2001. Epub 2009 Feb 11. PMCID:PMC2709692

Brunzell, D. H., Russell, D. S., & Picciotto, M.R. (2003). In vivo nicotine regulates mesocorticolimbic CREB and ERK signaling in C57Bl/6J mice. Journal of Neurochemistry, 84(6), 1431-1441. PMID: 12614343.