Vision Series: Kim Blackwell to Discuss Role of Dopamine

Posted: September 12, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: September 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Kim Avrama Blackwell. Photo by Evan Cantwell

“Dopamine, Parkinson’s Disease and Habit Learning,” a presentation by Mason neuroscientist Kim Avrama Blackwell, kicks off the 2011-12 Vision Series at Mason on Monday, Sept. 19.

Blackwell, a professor who heads the Computational and Experimental Neuroplasticity Laboratory at Mason’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, will give her talk at 7 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The lecture is free and no tickets are required.

What do Parkinson’s disease, addiction and habit learning have in common? Blackwell asks. The answer is dopamine, a molecule produced by the brain in response to reward.

Just as the repeated reward of particular actions leads to habits in behavior, dopamine reinforces the response of brain cells to environmental stimuli. Drugs of abuse strongly activate dopamine production; thus, addiction represents a very strong habit.

In contrast, a lack of dopamine causes Parkinson’s. Individual brain cells learn habits as an activity-dependent strengthening or weakening of pathways between brain cells, Blackwell explains. Furthermore, understanding how dopamine modifies brain cells’ response can illuminate normal habit learning, addiction pathology and Parkinson’s.

In her talk, Blackwell will discuss the role of dopamine in Parkinson’s, addiction and memory storage in the brain. She will also explain how experiments and computer simulations advance our understanding of dopamine, with the potential benefits of developing novel treatments for Parkinson’s and addiction.

Read more about Blackwell and her work in this article, which originally appeared in Mason Research.

The lecture will be followed by an informal reception with refreshments.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu