Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care: School of Medicine: University of California, Irvine

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Sean Ostlund, MD photo

Sean Ostlund, PhD

Assistant Professor

Dr. Sean Ostlund’s lab studies the neural substrates of affect, motivation, and decision-making, and how these brain systems become dysregulated to produce behavioral pathology. Such adaptations can be provoked by a variety of salient environmental stimuli, including opiates and other abused and/or therapeutic drugs, palatable foods, as well as by repeated exposure to chronic pain or stressors.

Dr. Ostlund and his team conduct basic science research on these topics using a multi-disciplinary approach that includes the application of sophisticated behavioral tests capable of parsing fundamental aspects of behavior in rodents, which are combined with neuroscience techniques used to measure or manipulate the activity of specific neural systems. Research strategies include the use of in vivo neurochemical analysis (fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and microdialysis) to measure dopamine and other neurochemical species in awake behaving animals, and optogenetic tools to activate or silence specific cell populations, as well as more traditional approaches including neuropharmacology (systemic and intracranial drug administration), focal brain lesions, and immunohistochemistry.

One major area of research in the Ostlund lab focuses on how the neuromodulator dopamine contributes to motivated behavior under normal conditions and in addiction, where it is believed to underlie compulsive drug seeking and relapse. This includes an ongoing NIDA-funded project examining the long-term consequences of repeated cocaine intake on various aspects of motivated behavior. In vivo microdialysis and fast-scan cyclic voltammetry are applied during behavioral testing to determine whether cocaine-induced changes in behavior are accompanied by aberrations in task-related dopamine release.

The Ostlund Lab is also engaged in two new lines of NIH-funded research examining how motivated behavior and decision making change over the lifespan and how energy-dense, palatable diets impact the brain to support over-eating and compulsive food seeking.