Susan Ferguson, PhD
Academic Title: Assistant Professor
Research Center: Center for Integrative Brain Research
"As a mother, I'm acutely aware that kids today are exposed to drugs -- and other temptations -- at a very young age. As a researcher, I'm trying to uncover how the brain is involved in addiction, and why some kids are especially vulnerable to it. My goal is to contribute to new treatments that help people overcome addiction or avoid it altogether."
Dr. Susan Ferguson is a Principal Investigator at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at the Seattle Childrens Research Institute and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. Her research uses a multi-level approach, combining molecular biology, circuit tracing and behavioral neuroscience, to understand the role of cortico-basal ganglia-thalamic circuitry in the development of behaviors that are associated with drug reward and addiction, as well as in the processes that underlie decision-making, motivation and impulsivity. To accomplish these goals, her lab employs novel molecular and genetic tools to isolate the role of subcomponents of this complex circuitry in rodent models of addiction, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and other impulse control disorders.
Dr. Ferguson received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Michigan in 2004 where she completed her dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. Terry Robinson studying drug addiction circuits. During her post-doctoral training under Dr. John Neumaier at the University of Washington, Dr. Ferguson received the Pathway for Independence Award (K99-R00) as well as a Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. Her research is currently funded by a R01 from NIDA and a small grant from the University of Washingtons ADAI.
- Medical/Professional School
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- Research Description
The overall goal of my research program is to use a multi-level approach, combining molecular biology, anatomy, genetics and behavioral neuroscience, to understand the role of cortico-basal ganglia circuitry in the development of behaviors that are associated with drug reward and addiction, as well as in the processes that underlie decision-making, motivation and impulsivity. To accomplish these goals, my laboratory employs a novel chemical-genetic approach that uses viral vectors to express artificial, engineered G-protein coupled receptors (known as DREADD receptors) in discrete neuronal cell populations in rodents. Activation of DREADD receptors by the otherwise inert synthetic ligand clozapine-N-Oxide will lead to transient alterations in neuronal activity (either increasing or decreasing cell function depending on which G-protein coupled DREADD receptor is expressed) of the targeted cell populations. This neuronal modulation can be paired with specific phases of the behaviors that we study, including psychostimulant-induced behavioral sensitization, drug self-administration and operant learning tasks, in order to parse out the neural circuitry that contributes to behaviors associated with addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders.
- About My Work