Keith L. Shelton, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Keith L. Shelton, Ph.D.

Department: Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Phone: (804) 827-2104

Fax: (804) 828-2117


Robert Blackwell Smith Building, Room 760D
410 North 12th Street
Box 980613
Richmond, Virginia 23298


  • Virginia Commonwealth University, 1995
  • Post-doc, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • Post-doc, Wake Forest University

Research interests

  • Behavioral pharmacology of abused inhalants, stimulants and alcohol
  • Neurochemical mechanisms of subjective drug effects
  • Behavioral mechanisms of drug reinforcement and relapse
  • Abuse-related behavioral effects of drug aerosols and vapors
  • Relapse prevention medication development and testing

Our laboratory focuses on exploring the neurochemical and neurobiological mechanisms responsible for the abuse-related behavioral effects of drugs. 

For over 20 years we have focused a large portion of our efforts on understanding the neurochemical processes underlying volatile inhalant abuse, a problem which disproportionately impacts adolescents.  These volatile chemicals, present in a vast variety of household products including paints, cleaning products and motor fuels are both highly addictive and extremely toxic.  Despite their widespread abuse by younger adolescents, relatively little is known about the neurochemical mechanisms responsible for their abuse liability.  Our research has demonstrated that the subjective intoxicating effects of many of these chemicals are the result of facilitation of GABA(A) receptor activity or an attenuation of NMDA receptor function. 

We employ a wide variety of in vivo techniques in rodent models including intravenous drug self-administration, inhalation self-administration, intracranial self-stimulation and drug discrimination.  Dr. Shelton’s background in aerospace fabrication as well as behavioral pharmacology has allowed our laboratory to repeatedly push the boundaries of existing technology to innovate new more translational animal models in this area. 

While continuing our important work with abused inhalants, we have expanded our portfolio to exploration of the abuse-related effects of drug aerosols produce by e-cigarettes.  Utilizing computer aided design and 3D fabrication techniques we have developed a model of rodent e-cigarette self-administration which closely mimics the topography of human e-cigarette use.  Continued studies using this model will allow us to better understand the rewarding as well as the adverse health consequences of drug vaping.

Selected publications:

Shelton KL (2018) Discriminative stimulus effects of abused inhalants.  Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience 39:113-139. 

Tracy ME, Banks ML, Shelton KL. (2016) Negative allosteric modulation of GABA(A) receptors inhibits facilitation of brain stimulation reward by drugs of abuse in C57BL6/J mice.  Psychopharmacology 233(4):715-725.

Richardson KL, Shelton KL, (2015)  N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor channel blocker-like discriminative stimulus effects of nitrous oxide gas. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics  352(1):156-165.

Tracy ME, Slavova-Hernandez GG, Shelton KL (2014). Assessment of reinforcement enhancing effects of toluene vapor and nitrous oxide in intracranial self-stimulation.  Psychopharmacology 231(7):1339-1350.

Shelton KL, Nicholson KL (2013).  Benzodiazepine-like discriminative stimulus effects of toluene vapor.  European Journal of Pharmacology 720(1-3):131-137.

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