NIH grant to fund new Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction

Elissa Chesler Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made a five-year grant totaling $11,714,623 to The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) to create a new Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction (CSNA).

JAX Associate Professor Elissa Chesler, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the grant, says, “Drug addiction is a devastating and highly complex neurobiological and behavioral phenomenon, with multiple risk factors, stages and behaviors that have proven difficult to study in combination. Our center brings an unprecedented approach to understanding the biological mechanisms behind individual risk for addiction.”

The CSNA will combine the expertise and effort of behavioral neuroscientists from several major universities, computational biologists and geneticists, and take advantage of recent advances in precise genetic, genomic and behavioral analysis in the laboratory mouse.

“Despite extensive evidence that addiction is a disease with variable individual risk,” Chesler says, “there is still a widespread misconception that addiction is a moral failing that is completely under the control of the individual. We want to identify the ways in which some individuals are more likely than others to start using drugs or become addicted to drugs, and to better understand how the brain responds to drugs to explain and treat compulsive drug-seeking. Ultimately the goal is to find new ways to prevent addiction in people who are at risk, and intervene in those who are already addicted.”

Deploying state-of-the-art behavioral and diagnostic tools, including those in the future JAX Center for Biometric Analysis, the researchers will evaluate advanced mouse populations with extremely high genetic and physiological variation (known as Collaborative Cross and Diversity Outbred mice) in search of traits that predispose individuals to addiction.

 They will then correlate these traits — such as impulsivity, acute and sensitized drug responses, reward-seeking, adolescent nicotine exposure and circadian variation — with the genomes of the mice to build datasets that will together be used to unravel mechanisms of addiction and extend the findings from mouse to human. These data resources and sophisticated analysis tools will be available to the global research community. The center will also develop and share new mouse models of addiction susceptibility based on the mechanisms they discover.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, a facility in Sacramento, Calif., and a genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn. It employs 1,800 staff, and its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health.

National Institute on Drug Abuse, grant number 1P50DA039841-01A1