Michel van den Oever recieves NWO-VENI grant

09 August 2011

Grant for innovative research awarded to CNCR post- doctoral fellow

With the VENI grant, the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme of the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), promotes innovation in academic research. This year, Michel van den Oever, Post-doc of CNCR’s MCN department, received a grant of 250.000 Euros for the duration of 3 years.

His project aims to dissect the neuronal circuitry that mediates conditioned drug seeking, using a novel optogenetics approach.

Drug craving induced by stimuli (locations, paraphernalia) associated with the addictive substance, is a hallmark of addiction and often leads to relapse.
The need for pharmacotherapy aimed at reducing relapse rates is substantial as addiction affects millions of people worldwide. For the development of successful therapies, knowledge about involved neuronal populations and how these contribute to drug seeking behavior is fundamental.

Previous research by Van den Oever and others (Van den Oever et al., 2008, Nat. Neurosci.) has shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and its target areas play a crucial role in cue-induced drug seeking. However, it is unknown how neurons within the mPFC communicate with each other during drug seeking and how this affects output to target regions of the mPFC. The VENI project aims to elucidate the subpopulations of mPFC neurons, as well as target regions of the mPFC that control drug seeking evoked by drug-associated stimuli.

The use of optogenetics makes the project into a technically state-of-the art endeavour. Light mediated activation of ion channels and ion pumps allows to activate or silence neuronal activity of specific cell populations in the mPFC of awake behaving mice. The technique’s high temporal resolution allows these interventions to be executed during cue-induced drug seeking tests in a mouse model for conditioned cocaine seeking. By doing so, the project aims to pinpoint neuronal networks that drive as well as those that can suppress conditioned drug craving. The ultimate goal of Van den Oever’s research is to identify new cellular and molecular targets for the treatment of addiction.

Kevin Janssen