Job ID: 114076

To study the neurobiological, behavioral and pharmacological basis of drug addiction and related psychopathologies

Position: Ph.D. Student

Deadline: 4 August 2023

Employment Start Date: 1 November 2023

Contract Length: 3 years

City: Camerino

Country: Italy

Institution: University of Camerino

Department: School of Pharmacy, Certer for Neuroscience


Project  title:  To study the neurobiological, behavioral and pharmacological basis of drug addiction and related psychopathologies.


ERC Field: LS5_3 Neurochemistry and neuropharmacology; LS7_3 Pharmacology, pharmacogenomics, drug discovery and design, drug therapy;LS5_12 Psychiatric disorders


Key words:  Reward and Motivation, Environment, Neurocircuitry, Pharmacology, Electrophysiology,


Host Institution: University of Camerino


Reference person/supervisor:  Roberto Ciccocioppo  


Research topic  description

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is  a psychiatric condition associated with increased health risks and social harm with dramatic impact to the global disease burden. In humans addictive behavior is characterized by a shift from recreational to compulsive drug seeking as described in the DSM-IV. Long-term consumption of substances of abuse induces neuroadaptations that are associated with loss of control, compulsive drug taking and negative emotional states (i.e. anxiety, depression). However, not all subjects develop SUD in response to prolonged exposure to drugs. Inter-individual vulnerability to lose control of drug consumption and develop addiction depends upon genetics, environment, personality traits, psychiatric comorbidities and the interplay of all these factors. Our laboratory is aimed at investigating the mechanisms through which these factors (and their interaction), contribute  to SUD vulnerability with the ultimate objective of identifying novel molecular targets and therapies to treat SUD.  To exploit these projects, in addition to classical pharmacological manipulations, in vivo optogenetic, chemogenetic and neurophysiological approaches will be used. Viral mediated upregulation and downregulation of specific receptors in selected brain areas are used to determine the role of specific neurocircuitry in encoding vulnerability to SUD. Ex vivo  brain slice electrophysiology will be also used to support the study.


Research team and environment

This research project will be carried out in the School of Pharmacy,  Center for Neuroscience, University of Camerino, Italy.  The laboratory  headed by Prof. Roberto Ciccocioppo is conceived as a multidisciplinary environment to investigate complex questions in  neuroscience.   The main research focus of the laboratory  is on the study of the neurobiological basis of abnormal behavior and brain functions relevant to human psychopathology with emphasis on motivation and reward-related disorders. The majority of this work is directed at the understanding the neurological mechanisms responsible for these aberrant behaviours and at identifying innovative pharmacological targets to aid the development of new more effective treatments.  Attention to the study of neurocircuitry and molecular mechanisms controlling emotional and cognitive disturbances associated with protracted exposure to drugs of abuse or chronic stress is also an important area of research. Over the years  this research team contributed to the  preclinical development of at least 3 compounds  that reached various clinical development stages. The team  consists of several  researchers, post-doctoral fellows and PhD students with different backgrounds including biology, pharmacology, philosophy,  psychology and physics.  Researchers have access to  1500 m2 of animal facility equipped  with  operant self-administration chambers, EPM equipments, Porsolt swimming tubes, open field arenas for social interaction, Noldus Etovision system for behavioral monitoring, etc. Fully equipped lab for immunohistochemistry, light, confocal and scanning electron microscopes are available. One laboratory is equipped an Electrophysiological setup for patch-clamp recordings in slices. Finally, equipment for molecular and cellular studies is  available.


Preferred Research Skills and Competences

The doctoral candidate will receive training in the techniques most commonly used in basic neuroscience, including brain activity recording, imaging, electrophysiology, proteomics, behavioural testing, molecular biology, histology and data analysis. Pharmacological, chemogenetic and optogenetic approaches will be also experienced. Candidates with training backgrounds in life sciences, behavioral pharmacology, electrophysiology, pharmaceutical sciences,  molecular genetics, are  preferentially considered for this position.