Logo of the Section on Neuronal StructureVeronica A. Alvarez, PhD, Acting Chief
and Tenure-Track Investigator

Section on Neuronal Structure (SNS)
Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience (LIN) NIAAA / NIH

5625 Fishers Lane, Room TS-24, MSC9411
Bethesda, MD 20892-9411
Office: (301) 443-7695
Lab: (301) 443-3769
Fax: (301) 480-8035

E-mail: alvarezva@mail.nih.gov

CV (pdf-file 120 kB); Web page: Alvarez at Neuroscience @ NIH


Mission statement

Experiments in the laboratory are aimed at understanding the acute and chronic actions of drugs of abuse on neurons and neuronal circuits. Chronic cocaine exposure triggers persistent changes in the morphology of neurons and synapses in specific regions of the brain such as the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex 1 , 2 , 3 . The mechanisms by which cocaine leads to these changes are not well understood and they are part of the goal of our studies. In addition, we are focused on understanding the functional consequences associated with the morphological changes at synapses.

One salient characteristic of addiction is that not every person exposed to drugs of abuse becomes an addict. For example, only 20% of cocaine users become compulsive drug-takers 4 . Similarly, only a fraction of research animals that self-administer cocaine show addiction-like behaviors 5 . One important part of our research is focused on understanding what is different in the brain of animals that developed addictive behaviors. Understanding the changes in the brain that contribute to compulsive drug taking and the vulnerability factors of becoming an addict are crucial for improving treatment and prevention of this disease.


  1. Shen et al. (2009). Altered dendritic spine plasticity in cocaine-withdrawn rats . Journal of Neuroscience .
  2. Robinson and Kolb (1997). Persistent structural modifications in nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex neurons produced by previous experience with amphetamine . Journal of Neuroscience .
  3. Robinson et al. (2001). Cocaine self-administration alters the morphology of dendrites and dendritic spines in the nucleus accumbens and neocortex . Synapse .
  4. Warner et al. (1995). Prevalence and correlates of drug use and dependence in the United States. Results from the National Comorbidity Survey . Archives of General Psychiatry .
  5. Deroche-Gamonet, Belin, Piazza (1995). Evidence for addiction-like behavior in the rat . Archives of General Psychiatry .