(Jan. 25, 2016) -- Carlos Paladini, UTSA associate professor of neuroscience, has received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to take a closer look at dopamine bursts in the brain. Paladini, who has done extensive research on methods to treat drug addiction by manipulating dopamine levels, hopes that this new undertaking could help people afflicted by clinical depression, drug addiction, schizophrenia or Parkinson’s disease.
Part of Paladini’s central focus will be dopamine bursts, pops of electricity in the brain that occur as neurons communicate that something exciting is about to happen. For example, a hungry person visits their favorite restaurant and sees their plate coming to the table, which causes some excitement and joy. This reward is caused by the dopamine burst in that person’s brain.
“Drug abuse hijacks that entire system,” Paladini said. “When your brain is addicted to drugs, things that bring you joy, like relationships or food, no longer bring that dopamine reward. You are only able to obtain it from drugs.”
The second part of Paladini’s focus is astrocytes, which act as messenger cells, collecting all the sensory data to let the dopamine cells know that something exciting is about to happen. He likens them to bouncers at a club.
“If the right kind of information reaches an astrocyte, then the dopamine will start firing a burst,” he said.
Because astrocytes, unlike neurons, don’t use electrical signals to communicate with each other, they’re hard to study and aren’t very well understood among neuroscientists. Paladini hopes that by gaining a better understanding of them, he can advance drug therapy to help people with diseases that are affected by dopamine levels.
UTSA’s brain research is supported by the UTSA Neurosciences Institute, of which Paladini is a member. The institute, which is part of the Department of Biology, is made up of more than two dozen top-tier scientists, studies the biological basis of human experience and behavior, as well as the origin and treatment of nervous system diseases.
“If people have overactive dopamine systems, they might hear voices, which is a symptom of schizophrenia,” he said. “On the opposite end of that spectrum is depression, whereas not having any dopamine is a sign of Parkinson’s.”
Too many astrocytes is a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can occur as the result of a traumatic brain injury and is a common disorder among soldiers returning from war.
“Any kind of changes or disturbances in these astrocytes can affect these diseases known to be related to dopamine,” Paladini said. “The dopamine system is rewarding. When doesn’t work, those rewards don’t occur for things that should make us happy, and we become depressed.”
Some drugs to treat dopamine-related ailments are already being used, and more are now in clinical trials, though astrocytes are still generally mysterious to neuroscientists.
“We can’t improve upon these drugs unless we understand the cells they’re affecting,” he said. “That’s the best possible road to take.”
Learn more about the UTSA Neurosciences Institute.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.
Throughout the summer, UTSA offers more than 60 camps in science, engineering, architecture, sports, music, writing, language, culture and more.
Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
Experience a fun, interactive week at UTSA as new students and their families take the first steps to becoming a Roadrunner.
Various locations, Main Campus and Downtown Campuses
Chat with members of the Downtown Campus Initiative Task Force about changes taking place as the Downtown Campus grows and transforms to offer a comprehensive living and learning experience. Table topics will include curriculum changes, orientation updates, transportation, food and living options.
Frio Street Building Commons Area, Downtown Campus
UTSA and the San Antonio Express-News will jointly host this town hall meeting to discuss Unequal Justice in Bexar County and in Texas.
Buena Vista Street Building Theater (BVB 1.326), Downtown Campus
Finance and Budget Modeling Task Force presents a panel presentation of experts from 4 universities with experience in incentive-based budgeting. All UTSA campus community is invited to attend and be informed about budgeting processes.
Business Building Richard Liu Auditorium (BB 2.01.02), Main Campus
This event showcases the work of trainees, faculty, staff and students from multiple disciplines and public health agencies across San Antonio.
H-E-B Student Union Ballroom (HSU 1.104), Main Campus
This exhibit highlights the UTSA Special Collections, which includes historic photographs from Texas, San Antonio and UTSA history.
UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Come learn about the benefits available before the enrollment period July 15-31.
Business Building University Room (BB 2.06.04), Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.