Dr. Ibañez-Tallon investigates the habenula, an ancient and highly conserved brain structure associated with nicotine addiction and compulsive and impulsive behaviors. All vertebrates possess this small midbrain structure; however, until recently it has received little attention. The habenula links the forebrain and limbic system with the brainstem acting as a relay station for the regulation of emotion, motivation, and cognition. It appears to play a role in psychiatric disorders including addiction, depression, and schizophrenia.
While studying nicotinic receptors, Dr. Ibañez-Tallon uncovered some of the first evidence implicating the habenula in nicotine addiction. She discovered cholinergic neurons in the medial habenula played a critical role in nicotine consumption in mice, a result bolstered by genome-wide association studies of human tobacco use. Dr. Ibañez-Tallon and another group independently demonstrated nicotine consumption in mice could be altered via nicotinic receptors in medial habenular neurons.
Dr. Ibañez-Tallon is currently investigating the molecular mechanisms, neural circuits, and behaviors associated with the habenula. She has recently identified novel receptors and membrane proteins present only in specific habenular neuron populations, in which these molecules control neuronal activity and synaptic transmission. Her work has also uncovered a high concentration of rhythmic activity-generating pacemaker channels in habenular neurons.
Dr. Ibañez-Tallon applies a variety of techniques to investigate habenular structure and function, including genetically encoded venomous peptide toxins, translating ribosome affinity purification, electrophysiology, and behavioral tests in mice. Dr. Ibañez-Tallon is also involved in circuit mapping elsewhere in the central nervous system to better understand addiction and other psychiatric conditions.