Virginia M. Pickel   Professor of Neuroscience

Receptor Targeting and Plasticity

Dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and their limbic targets in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and amygdala have extensive cortical and subcortical connections that are important for normal motivated behaviors and abnormalities underlying addictive and neuropsychiatric diseases. In addition, brainstem catecholaminergic neurons play an important role in modulation of cardiorespiratory responses to stress involving glutamatergic baro- and/or chemosensory inputs to the nucleus of the solitarius. Ongoing research focuses receptor targeting and trafficking in each of these areas using primarily electron microscopic immunocytochemistry as the tool of investigation. These projects include analysis of the neural systems that are specifically targeted by opiates, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC), and psychocotomimetic drugs in rat and mouse models. In addition, studies are underway to examine the synaptic basis for integration of autonomic responses to stress or emotional events involving brainstem and forebrain circuitry. For more information, please visit our website at:


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Grants awarded

  • EM-Transmitter Interactions of Striatal Opioid Neurons  awarded by National Institute on Drug Abuse Principal Investigator 2009 - 2015
  • Ultrastructure of Mesolimbic Transmitter Interactions  awarded by National Institute of Mental Health Principal Investigator 2008 -
  • Role of Prohibitin in Ischemic Brain Injury  awarded by National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke Key Personnel 2015 - 2020
  • Hypertension and Neurovascular Dysfunction  awarded by National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke Key Personnel 2015 - 2019
  • Forebrain Plasticity in Hypertension  awarded by National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute Key Personnel 2009 - 2015
  • Treatment of Addictions: Biological Correlates  awarded by National Institute on Drug Abuse Principal Investigator Subaward 2012 -



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