My research program is focused on the neural mechanisms that mediate addiction to drugs of abuse. Our laboratory combines neurochemical and molecular approaches with behavioral models in order to provide a better understanding of the neural basis of addiction.

Specific research questions of interest include:

What are the underlying factors that promote tobacco use in vulnerable populations, such as adolescents, females and persons with diabetes?

What are the mechanisms that modulate the neurochemical effects of nicotine and withdrawal from this drug?

What are the biological underpinnings that promote escalation of the intake of drugs of abuse, such as methamphetamine?

I have 25+ years of experience combining rodent models of drug abuse with state-of-the-art neuroscience methods that involve neurochemistry, molecular biology, and behavioral models of drug abuse in rodents. As PI or co-Investigator on several university and NIH-funded grants, I have collaborated with other researchers, and produced 70+ peer-reviewed
publications in the area of substance use. Of most relevance to this application, I have mentored several young faculty members that I was funded on a T32 grant during my time as a post-doctoral fellow at The Scripps Research Institute. As an example, I am currently mentoring Dr. Felix Matos, who has a Diversity Supplement award to the SCORE grant of Dr. Mendez. Our collaborative project focuses on the long-term effects of nicotine vapor exposure on cognition and impulsive choice behavior. I have experience with running training programs through our NIH-funded Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program entitled, Summer Mentoring And Research Training: Methods In Neuroscience of Drug-Abuse (SMART MIND). The goal of this program is to enrich the science education and research training of undergraduate students and high school teachers with a specific focus on the neuroscience of drug addiction. I was also the PI of an NIH-funded Postdoctoral Training program entitled, Vulnerability Issues In Drug Abuse: Career And Research Transdisciplinary Training (VIDA:CARTT). The purpose of this training award was to provide a tailored 2-year research experience and professional development program for underrepresented post-doctoral fellows conducing basic biomedical substance abuse research. I have also directly mentored 5 post-doctoral fellows, 7 graduate and 70+
undergraduate students. My graduate students have gone on to competitive post-doctoral positions, and my first
4 graduate students are in tenure-track faculty positions.

  • B.A., 1992, Texas A&M University
  • M.A., 1994, Arizona State University
  • Ph.D., 1997, Arizona State University