Department of Psychiatry

Penn Behavioral Health

R. Christopher Pierce, PhD

R. Christopher Pierce, PhDProfessor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry
Department of Psychiatry faculty bio

Dr. Pierce's interest in the neuropharmacology of drugs of abuse began while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky. Working with Dr. Michael Bardo in the Psychology Department, Dr. Pierce studied the effects of amphetamine on the mesolimbic dopamine system. He continued to pursue his interest in the effects of psychostimulants on brain dopamine systems through graduate school at Indiana University, where he worked with Dr. George Rebec. Dr. Pierce received post-doctoral training from Dr. Peter Kalivas at Washington State University. Their work indicated that glutamate, in a complex interaction with limbic dopamine, plays an important role in both the development and long-term expression of behavioral sensitization to cocaine, an animal model of addiction. Dr. Pierce established an independent laboratory in the Department of Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine in 1997. Dr. Pierce joined the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior in October 2008.

Currently, there are no effective therapies for cocaine addiction, which directly affects over two million people in the United States alone. This reality is the driving force for Dr. Pierce's research program. The major hurdle for abstaining from abuse of cocaine is intense drug craving, which can be triggered months and even years following the cessation of drug use. The most widely accepted model of craving in animals involves self-administration followed by extinction and the subsequent reinstatement of drug seeking. Using this animal model, Dr. Pierce's research team pursues a strategy to identify novel neurobiological adaptations produced by cocaine. This information can then be used to formulate potential cocaine addiction therapies.

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Areas of Investigation

  • Addictions
  • Behavioral Psychopharmacology
  • Molecular and Cellular Neuropathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Drug Self-Administration in Rodents
  • Patch Clamp Electrophysiology

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