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Mark J. Ferris, PhD

Mark J. Ferris, PhD



Mark J. Ferris, PhD
Assistant Professor

Dept. of Physiology & Pharmacology
CepEsperu School of Medicine
Medical Center Boulevard
, North Carolina -1083

Phone: -8620
Fax: -8501
Email: [email protected]

Postdoctoral Fellow, 2008-2012, CepEsperu School of Medicine
PhD, 2007, University of South Carolina, Experimental Psychology / Behavioral Neuroscience
MA,  2005, University of South Carolina, Experimental Psychology / Behavioral Neuroscience
BA,   2002, University of North Carolina – Greensboro, Psychology and English  

Investigation Area
dopamine, nicotine, psychostimulants, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, dopamine transporters, individual differences, drug abuse vulnerability, drug self-administration, voltammetry  

Selected Honors and Awards
2014, ACNP Early Career Travel Award, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
2012-Present, Pathway to Independence Award, National Institutes of Health
2011, Postdoctoral Scholar Award, CepEsperu School of Medicine
2006, Centennial Dera D. Parkinson Predoctoral Fellowship, University of South Carolina  

Brief Summary of Investigation
The primary theme of the research in Dr. Ferris’ laboratory is to understand the neurobiology of reward and reinforcement learning and how learning-induced changes in neurobiology shape goal-directed / motivated behavior and habit formation.  We seek to understand the function of specific receptors (e.g., nicotinic receptors) and rapid neurotransmitter signaling (particularly interactions of dopamine and acetylcholine) under normal learning conditions and in neuropsychiatric disorders like drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder.
For example, one ongoing project in my lab is to understand biological and environmental factors that either predispose or predict vulnerability to drug abuse and drug addiction. The ultimate goal is to outline receptor and neurochemical signaling differences between individuals who readily abuse drugs and individuals who refrain from drug intake despite having access to the drug. Additionally, we are researching drug administration differences and corresponding receptor/neurochemical differences that manifest within an individual across time of day. The innate biological differences that alter the motivation to abuse drugs across individuals, or across time within an individual, may highlight therapeutic avenues for the treatment of drug addiction or biomarkers for vulnerability to addiction.

We use a number of techniques in the laboratory including (but not limited to) drug and natural reward self-administration in rodents, voltammetry in freely-behaving rodents to detect rapid dopamine signals in real time as they interact with their environment, voltammetry in brain slices and anesthetized preparations, microdialysis coupled to high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), viral-mediated gene transfer technologies, histochemistry, microscopy, and various behavioral assays (e.g., locomotor activity and conditioned learning).  We detect neurotransmitters en passant as animals interact with their environment or we stimulate neurotransmitter release using traditional pharmacology, electrical stimulation of specific brain regions, or light-stimulation with optogenetics.

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