The McMurray Lab has a variety of ongoing projects with both clinical and basic-science implications. Projects typically involve multiple researchers and are always a collaborative effort. Graduates and Undergraduates alike have the opportunity to lead their own investigations. An overview of our major research directions is below.
Behavioral and Neural Effects of Psychedelics
Psychedelics have emerged as a promising new treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. But much is still not understood about their mechanisms, effects, or safety. Through a partnership with Andrew Jones Lab and PsyBio, Inc, the McMurray Lab is investigating these topics, in the hope of leading to a novel fast-acting treatment for these debilitating diseases.
Neurocognitive Effects of Abused Drugs
Drug use causes a vast number of neurocognitive effects, from changes in reward sensation to changes in stress levels and memory. The co-abuse of drugs complicates these effects even more, with drugs often interacting at pharmacological and chemical levels. This complexity makes treatment and prevention challenging. So, this line of research seeks to identify the immediate and lasting effects of acute and chronic drug use. We are particularly interested in the effects of alcohol and opiates. This work relies on collaborations with Dr Anna Radke's lab at Miami and Dr Rose Marie Ward's lab at Miami.
Neurophysiology of Decision-making
Decision-making is a core component of our daily life, and a complex neurophysiological process. It involves multiple overlapping neural circuits, including systems responsible for reward processing, learning/memory, executive control, sensation/perception, and motor control. The goal of this line research is to unravel some of that complexity by studying the basic neurophysiology of each of these processes, in a variety of decision-making contexts. We are especially interested in the neural systems that control impulsive decisions and those responsible for behavioral flexibility, given their prominent roles in addiction and other psychiatric diseases.
Predictors of Adolescent Drug Use and Long Term Effects of Use
Most individuals have their first experience with drugs during adolescence, and considering how drugs directly alter the neurocircuitry that controls decision-making and reward, drug use during this particularly vulnerable period is likely to have long-term implications on behavior. Additionally, the direct effect of drugs on decision-making may make treatment even more difficult. Therefore, this line of research focuses on identifying the cognitive and neural systems that are uniquely affected by drug use in adolescence, determining if these effects are transient or persistent, and if they can be reversed by environmental or pharmacological intervention. We are particularly interested in the long term effects of adolescent and college age alcohol and opiate use.
Early Biomarkers and New Treatments for Anorexia
Anorexia is a debilitating and life-threatening disorder characterized by changes in reward processing and decision-making about food. Current treatment strategies are expensive and time-consuming, and have only mixed success. Therefore this line of research seeks to identify new treatments for anorexia and early biomarkers for anorexia, to prevent disease onset. This is a collaborative effort between the McMurray lab, Dr. Stephanie Dulawa's lab at UCSD, Dr Jay Smart's lab at Miami, and Dr. April Smith's lab at Miami
Elucidation of Factors that Predispose Drug Use
Addiction is the only fully preventable psychiatric disease. If an individual never uses drugs, than they can never become an addict. Additionally, the majority of drug users never become addicts. Therefore, there must be biological and environmental factors that predispose some individuals to use drugs and become addicted. Thus, the purpose of this line of research is to identify the internal and external factors that facilitate drug seeking and addiction. We are especially interested in the role of early life stressors, such as neglect and social defeat. This is a collaborative effort between the McMurray lab and Dr. Jennifer Quinn's lab at Miami.