Psychedelics are not solely used for recreation. These psychoactive substances have been shown to have the potential to treat mental disorders, including major depression and anxiety. However, the neurological and behavioral effects of psychedelics on humans are poorly understood. Amy Christensen, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Adam Kepecs, PhD, the Robert J. Terry Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Professor of Psychiatry, was awarded $100,000 over two years from the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience Small Grants Program for her project to understand how psychedelics alter behavior in mice. “Understanding changes in behavior is necessary for cross-species mechanistic study, because we cannot ask the mice if they are experiencing ‘ego dissolution’ or any other of the cognitive experiential effects of psychedelic use reported by humans,” Christensen says.
The Kepecs lab is broadly interested in understanding the neurobiological and computational principles that govern cognition and decision making. Christensen’s project seeks to fill a gap in knowledge regarding how acute psychedelic use modulates behavior. She will monitor the neural and behavioral effects of the psychedelic drug 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI) in mice in the context of value-guided foraging, which involves weighing the tradeoff between reward and effort. Under this paradigm, mice must decide between remaining in a place where a reward is depleting versus taking the risk of exposure and effort to move to a new location with a greater reward. Determining how psychedelics affect mouse behavior will lay the foundation for future work to understand the neural mechanisms of psychedelics.