Title of my talk: Orchestrating opioid associated memories in thalamic circuits

Abstract: The current opioid epidemic imposes a tremendous socioeconomic burden in the United States.  A major challenge for treating addiction is preventing relapse, which occurs largely due to the retrieval of powerful memories that associate drug-evoked experiences with their proximal environmental cues. When taking an opioid, the immediate rewarding effects are followed by the emergence of an acute withdrawal state as the drug is metabolized.  The positive reinforcement of opioid reward as well as the negative reinforcement of avoiding withdrawal could promote the formation and maintenance of drug-associated memories.  Although the role of reward in drug seeking is well established, the contribution of drug withdrawal remains debatable.  In this talk, I will first present data to establish the essential role of the paraventricular thalamus (PVT) to nucleus accumbens (NAc) pathway in mediating opioid withdrawal symptoms. The identification of neural pathway for withdrawal provided the unique opportunity to address the long-standing hypothesis that the strong negative state accompanied with opioid withdrawal played important role in maintaining the opioid-associated memory.  I will also discuss ongoing work to examining role of the PVT to NAc pathway in the formation and maintenance of opioid-associated memories.

Short bio: Xiaoke Chen is an assistant professor in Department of Biology at Stanford University. He got his PhD. in 2005 at the Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he studied the kinetics of vesicle fusion in neuron and astrocyte. From 2006-2012,he did postdoc with Dr. Charles Zuker in UC San Diego and Columbia University, to study the neurobiology of taste. Currently, his lab at Stanford is studying brain circuits underlying motivated behaviors and how maladaptive change in these circuits lead to chronic pain, addiction and depression.