Marquette University professor and colleagues receive $2.2 million grant for neuroscience research on substance abuse

August 19, 2020

David BakerMILWAUKEE — Dr. David Baker, associate chair and professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences at Marquette University, received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse for his study on neuroscientific bases of substance abuse. Baker is the lead investigator of a team of scientists from Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin. His colleagues from Marquette are Dr. Robert Peoples, professor of biomedical sciences, and Dr. Alex Savtchouk, assistant professor of biomedical sciences.

The grant, titled “PACAP-Dependent Coordination of Glutamate Signaling between Neurons and Astrocytes,” seeks to further explore how signaling activity in the brain occurs and what effect it has on drug-seeking behavior and addiction.

Brain function is based on the coordinated activity of two types of brain cells: neurons and astrocytes. Glutamate is a molecule in the brain required for cellular communication between these two cells. But how the brain coordinates that cellular signaling could hold answers into the neural basis of addiction and related disorders.

Baker and his team believe that a neuropeptide – a small, protein-like molecule in the brain – called PACAP may be the key to how glutamate signaling is coordinated. The grant will allow an in-depth study of PACAP and its role in neural signaling.

“Brain disorders that lead to issues like addiction result in a larger disease burden in the United States than cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” Baker said. “The impact of diseases of addiction on our society reflects the lack of effective and safe medications. We hope this study will lead to discoveries that can help address that.”

“This is an important scientific project, not only for Dr. Baker and colleagues, but for the field of the neurobiology of addiction,” said Dr. William E. Cullinan, dean of the College of Health Sciences at Marquette University. “Investigating mechanisms of neuron-astrocyte interactions in the brain may ultimately lead to novel therapeutic treatments for addictive disorders.”

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Jesse Lee

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