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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida International: Early Life Lead Exposure Alters Brain Opioid System and May Lead to Mental Disorders

While the exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown and much research has focused on genetics, researchers at the Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work are one step closer to understanding one pathway which may result in this long-term mental disorder.

“Environmental factors have been associated with psychiatric disorders and recent studies suggest lead exposure disrupts common pathways in schizophrenia and drug addiction” said Dr. Damaris Albores-Garcia, a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte’s Lab, who recently received third place in the 2020 Metal Specialty Section Post-Doctoral Research Award presented by the Society of Toxicology (SOT). This is the third consecutive year that Dr. Albores-Garcia is honored with the award at the annual conference for her abstract and poster presentations.

The study is examining the effects of chronic early lead exposure on the brain of juvenile, adolescents, and young adults in preclinical animal models.

“Using this animal model, we are able to observe how the brain changes at the neurochemical and behavioral level, allowing us to explore treatment options to mitigate the consequences of lead exposure” continued Dr. Albores-Garcia.

The studies for which she received this year’s award showed that early life lead exposure alters the brain’s opioid system – affecting susceptibility to addictions, pain, mood and fear management among others.

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