Our Faculty

headshot of Florence Varodayan

Florence Varodayan

Assistant Professor

Psychology

Background

Our research program is focused on understanding how alcohol and stress impact brain synapses and circuits to promote alcohol use disorder. We are particularly interested in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain as it regulates mood, motivation and impulsivity, and its dysfunction plays a critical role in several psychiatric diseases. Specifically, alcohol-dependent patients have reduced cortical volumes and significant cognitive deficits (e.g. difficulties with emotional processing, risky decision-making, lack of inhibitory control). One significant barrier to developing pharmacological treatments that address these cognitive deficits is that the precise actions of alcohol and stress on prefrontal cortex synapses and circuits are not well understood. The fact that prefrontal cortex activity can be modulated by many different neuropeptides, neurotransmitters and neuroimmune factors widens this information gap, but also provides an excellent opportunity to identify novel therapeutic targets for improving cognitive function after chronic alcohol exposure. Therefore, research in the Varodayan lab spans three major questions:

  • Which prefrontal cortex synapses and circuits are alcohol- and stress sensitive?
  • How does cortical circuit/synaptic modulation by various neuropeptides, neurotransmitters and neuroimmune factors contribute to the adverse behavioral outcomes of alcohol use disorder?
  • What role do shared neural substrates in the prefrontal cortex play in the synergistic interaction between alcohol and stress?

Our ultimate goal is to translate our neurobiological findings into innovative therapeutic strategies to provide better treatment for patients suffering from comorbid alcohol- and anxiety/stress-related psychiatric diseases.

Education

  • Post-Doctoral Fellowship, The Scripps Research Institute
  • PhD in Neurobiology & Behavior, Columbia University
  • MPhil in Neurobiology & Behavior, Columbia University
  • MSc in Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania
  • BA in Biochemistry and Biology, University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Stress
  • Cognitive function
  • Synaptic transmission
  • Neuroimmune signaling
  • Sex differences

More Info

Techniques

Models of alcohol drinking and dependence; Slice electrophysiology; Chemo/optogenetics; Molecular biology; Cognitive and anxiety-like behavioral testing; Behavioral pharmacology

Mentoring and teaching philosophy

In addition to mastering technical skills, I want students and trainees in my lab to understand the overarching question that drives their projects, the limitations of their approaches, and how their findings further the field. This deeper level of knowledge fosters confidence in my mentees to effectively communicate their work to other scientists and the public, and builds their independence towards pursuing future research studies. Accordingly, I work closely with my undergraduate students to help them summarize their projects in a written report and to present a poster or talk at a regional or national scientific conference. For my graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, I will support all aspects of their career development, including learning new techniques and conceptual approaches, experimental progress, timely presentation and publication of data, development of independent proposals and grant submissions, and networking and engagement at scientific conferences. Through this mentoring, I strive to provide all my mentees with a meaningful research experience and to foster diversity and inclusion in the STEM fields. I encourage students who are interested in conducting research in my lab to contact me by e-mail.

Research Profile