Dr. Barker’s primary research interest is in dissecting the neural circuits that contribute to the development of neuropsychiatric illnesses characterized by inflexible behavior. Her lab combines traditional and cutting edge techniques to investigate how these circuits function in an intact system to mediate behavioral flexibility and how deficits in control over actions may result from insults such as drug and alcohol exposure or infection.

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Selected Funded Projects

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NIAAA R21AA027629

Sex differences in regulation of reinstatement of ethanol seeking by nucleus accumbens glutamate signaling

These studies will combine fiber photometry with molecular techniques to investigate sex differences in the contribution of discrete neural circuits to relapse-related behaviors in ethanol dependent male and female mice. 


PI: Barker

Team: Giacometti, Bryant, Buck

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Integrating preclinical models to develop converging mechanistic data in co-occurring HIV and substance use

These studies combine intersectional viral strategies with preclinical models of progressive HIV infection to identify strategies to reduce inflexible drug seeking in HIV infection and cART treatment. We will identify circuit- and cell type-specific alterations in humanized mice infected with HIV-1, and wild-type mice infected with a chimeric virus to generate parallel data sets. 


PI: Barker

Team: Xie, Giacometti, Buck

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NIDA R03DA047919

Alterations in corticostriatal control of cocaine seeking in HIV infection

Substance use disorders are highly comorbid with HIV infection. These studies combine a humanized mouse model of HIV infection with behavioral tools to investigate the impact of combined chronic HIV infection and cocaine exposure on the development of compulsive-like drug seeking and associated alterations in plasticity associated molecules. In collaboration with Dr. Santhi Gorantla at UNMC.


PI: Barker

Team: Giacometti, Huang, Buck

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Hartwell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

Sex differences in the role of astrocyte dysfunction in the development of depression-like behaviors following adolescent ethanol exposure.

Adolescent alcohol use is highly prevalent and is linked to depressive symptoms later in life, particularly among females. We will investigate sex differences in the effects of adolescent ethanol exposure on altered astrocyte function that may underlie the subsequent development of depression-like behavior.

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PI: Giacometti

Team: Chandran, Figueroa

Other Ongoing Projects

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Ventral hippocampus circuits in compulsive-like behavior

Lead by: Katie Bryant and Lauren Buck

These studies combine behavioral analyses with photometric, electrophysiological, and chemogenetic tools to dissect the discrete neural circuits regulating compulsive-like ethanol seeking.

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Sex and estrous cycle mediated differences in ethanol seeking 

Lead by: Laura Giacometti and Qiaowei Xie

These studies investigate behavioral, molecular, and circuit-level differences between males and females at baseline and in response to insults, including exposure to chronic intermittent ethanol or infection.