The ability to learn is of fundamental importance not only to the survival of an individual, but also to the success of a species in general. Learning to avoid things associated with negative consequences and to seek out those that are rewarding is the driving force behind every aspect of our behavior. Moreover, we as humans are defined by the collection of memories that we have accumulated over time. Imagine that one day you no longer remembered your significant other, or perhaps, after seeing the image of a needle, you felt compelled to shoot up. Unfortunately, these scenarios are very real for people with Alzheimer's disease and addiction, two brain disorders characterized by the disruption of natural learning and memory mechanisms. In fact, cognitive deficits are associated with nearly every brain disorder including schizophrenia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and anxiety.
As important as learning and memory is, our understanding of these intertwined processes at the molecular, cellular, and systems level is still quite limited. Additionally, we know relatively little about how small molecules regulate cognition. This fact is particularly troubling when we consider that small molecule drugs are likely to be our best weapons for treating the cognitive deficits associated with the debilitating psychiatric and neurodegenerative illnesses mentioned above. Our group is dedicated to understanding the mechanisms by which small molecules regulate neural plasticity, learning, and memory in the hopes of developing more efficacious and better-tolerated neurotherapeutics.