In This Section


Substance abuse is a major public health problem in the United States and worldwide. Not only does addiction damage the ability to live a normal life, but it also increases the incidence of infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. The biological basis for addiction is not completely understood, and effective treatments for addiction are limited.

The mission of the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CSAR) is to carry out research to understand the biological basis of drug addiction and other effects of addictive drugs that result in altered states of biological function. Knowledge gained about these drugs and the endogenous pathways they impact is important in preventing and successfully treating addictions, as well as to alleviate human suffering through amelioration of pain, inflammation and the medical consequences of drug abuse.

CSAR investigators use multidisciplinary approaches to address these questions. Thirty faculty members with primary academic appointments in 11 different departments of the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy and College of Liberal Arts have appointments in CSAR.

Ongoing pre-clinical research in CSAR addresses the following topics:

  • Novel agents and therapeutic targets to reduce relapse to drug-seeking behaviors
  • Molecular and genetic mechanisms that control expression of receptors for addictive drugs and the endogenous ligands for those receptors
  • Receptor-ligand interactions and signal transduction mechanisms that initiate and control cellular responses
  • Behavioral and physiological consequences of exposure to addictive drugs
  • Interrelationships between the nervous and immune systems and their receptors and products (i.e., neuroimmunology)
  • Impact of exposure to addictive drugs on immune status and resistance to infection, including human or simian immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV) and hepatitis C virus
  • Effects of addictive drugs and the endogenous pathways they impact on physiological states including craving, anxiety, and depression
  • Drug interactions
  • Effects of synthetic cannabinoids with anti-inflammatory activity

Research in CSAR encompasses many classes of addictive drugs and substances including opioids (e.g., heroin, morphine, oxycodone, buprenorphine), cannabinoids (e.g., marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids), psychostimulants (e.g., cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, bath salts), nicotine, alcohol, hallucinogens and sedative-hypnotics.

One unique aspect of the research being carried out in CSAR is an emphasis on neuroimmune interactions as they relate to drugs of abuse. Strong collaborations between immunologists and pharmacologists/physiologists in the center have revealed a bidirectional communication between chemokines, which are traditionally considered products of the immune system, in regulating signaling by opioid and cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, and conversely, by opioids and cannabinoids in regulating signaling by chemokines in the immune system. Consequences of these interactions relate to perception of pain, generation of inflammation, and HIV infection.

The mission of CSAR is to encourage and foster interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to understanding the basic biology of abused drugs. A P30 Core Center of Excellence grant from NIDA/NIH to investigators in CSAR serves as a local and national resource to enhance drug abuse research. A NIDA training grant supports the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in addiction-related research.