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Research Affiliates

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Yan Zhou, M.D., Ph.D.

Research Associate Professor
Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases

Recently, Dr. Zhou’s research in the Kreek laboratory focused on the role of the neuropeptide arginine vasopressin (AVP) and its central receptors, especially the V1b subtype, in drug addiction. In collaboration with Francesco Leri’s lab at the University of Guelph, he and his colleagues have found that amygdalar AVP gene expression levels were increased in acute heroin withdrawal, and highly selective non-peptide V1b receptor antagonists dose-dependently blocked stress-induced reinstatement of heroin-seeking behavior. Using genetically selected Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats, he and the Giancarlo Colombo lab at the Institute of Neuroscience of the National Research Council of Italy found that pharmacological blockade of V1b receptor attenuated alcohol drinking in a rat model of human alcoholism. Together, these studies indicate that the AVP/V1b system may be a potential novel therapeutic target for treating drug addiction.

Evidence obtained in humans and rodents indicates that b-endorphin — encoded by the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) gene — is critical in regulation of alcohol drinking behavior. Dr. Zhou and his colleagues recently found that POMC-enhanced green fluorescent protein neurons were modestly distributed throughout the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell and core. However, the alcohol effect on POMC gene expression has not been studied in rodent mesolimbic regions, such as the NAc. With Dr. Colombo’s lab, Dr. Zhou and his team further found that chronic alcohol drinking increased POMC messenger RNA levels in the NAc shell (but not the core) of Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats, suggesting that NAc POMC plays a role in high alcohol consumption.