Research Highlight April 16, 2018

How does genetics influence drug addiction?

About 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 — approximately 28.6 million people — are reported to use illicit drugs. About a quarter of those drug users are regular users or have become dependent. Drug addiction crosses gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic boundaries, but not everyone is susceptible to addiction. Addiction-resistant individuals use drugs without spiraling into the impairing patterns of addiction. The different responses to drug use come from our genes and how genetic differences intersect with differences in our environments – our life histories and lifestyles. Especially stress can be a major factor is someone’s descent into drug abuse.

Price Dickson, Addiction Researcher
Price Dickson, Ph.D.

The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded Price Dickson, Ph.D.Integrates operant and classical conditioning paradigms with modern systems genetics techniques to identify the genetic and genomic mechanisms underlying the behavioral processes of drug addiction and related behavioral disorders.Price Dickson, Ph.D. , a postdoctoral associate at The Jackson Laboratory, a five-year Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) to discover the genetic underpinnings that make individuals susceptible or resistant to addiction in the face of chronic stress. The initial award of $288k will support Dickson’s postdoctoral research with JAX Professor Elissa Chesler, Ph.D.Researches the genetics underlying behavior and identifies the biological basis for relationships among behavioral traits.Elissa Chesler, Ph.D. , and will help him establish an independent research group in future. Dickson will be eligible for the second phase of the award when he obtains an independent faculty position.

Dickson’s work under this award makes use of a  Genetically diverse mouse populations reveal secrets of the genomeDiscoveries in JAX-founded Collaborative Cross, Diversity Outbred populations show value of multi-parent model organism systemsgenetically diverse collection of mice that approximates the genetic diversity among the human population. Using mice as a model for human addiction allows Dickson to control environmental factors, like stress and life history, to precisely identify genetic signatures that influence susceptibility or resistance to drug use and addiction.

The results of Dickson’s research are likely to reveal new therapeutic or preventative treatments for drug addiction and uncover a means of identifying people susceptible to addiction. Knowing who’s at risk for addiction would allow for more precisely targeted prevention strategies.

“This award will allow discovery of novel genes and mechanisms driving the effect of chronic environmental stress on addiction liability and may ultimately contribute to the development of novel, more effective addiction treatments,” summarized Dickson. “The advanced mouse resources, state-of-the-art genetics, and tremendous mentorship available at JAX will facilitate this work.”

“This grant will help Price establish an independent research career that goes beyond  Breaking the cycle of addiction, a deepening and deadly public health crisis.Addiction is a chronic illness, with genetic, environmental and social aspects. JAX researchers are at the forefront of understanding the genetic factors involved in individuals’ vulnerability to addiction. our addiction genetics research and into an important new direction —  the study of the interaction of genetics and the environment in which an individual lives,” said Chesler. “We are all excited for him as he moves forward in this work.”

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