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Research Directions

The field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is broadly interested in understanding how  psychological factors impact our health and disease vulnerability as well as how our health impacts how we feel, think, and behave.

Research within our laboratory primarily uses murine models to study the mechanisms underlying fatigue, depression, and motivation (e.g., voluntary wheel running, locomotor activity, operant conditioning, classical tests of anti-depressant activity) in the context of cancer (e.g., mEER tumor, LLC tumor), cancer therapy (e.g., cisplatin, radiation), and/or inflammation (e.g., aging, maternal immune activation, stress, diabetes). The nature of this research requires an interdisciplinary approach incorporating methodologies from a variety of fields including: psychology, neuroscience, endocrinology, immunology, and pharmacology.

One of our central interests is in understanding the role of mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunction in the development of cancer-related fatigue. Using mouse models of cancer and a curative regimen of chemoradiation, we aim to better understand the mechanisms by which cancer and treatment disrupt cellular energy production. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Robert Dantzer at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Another area of interest within the laboratory explores the mechanisms underlying vulnerability to developing fatigue and depression in the context of cancer. Individuals with cancer often report vastly different experiences. Some patients suffer from significant fatigue and/or depression at the time of diagnosis, through treatment,  and into survivorship. Other patients report a remarkably low symptom burden. We seek to understand what factors predict resilient verses vulnerable phenotypes. A multitude of variables (e.g., genetics, life experience, age, and diet) likely contribute. 

We are also interested in the neurobiological mechanisms underlying inflammation-induced depression. We are currently working with models of chronic hyperglycemia and chronic unpredictable stress. 

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