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Veronica Alvarez, Ph.D., Investigator

Dr. Alvarez received her B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She moved to the United States to take a postdoctoral position in John T. Williams' laboratory at the Vollum Institute, where she studied the cellular mechanisms involved in the development of tolerance to opioids. During a postdoctoral fellowship with Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard Medical School, she studied the role of specific genes in regulating the function of synapses and the morphology of dendritic spines. Dr. Alvarez joined NIAAA as an investigator in 2008. Her laboratory studies the changes in synaptic function and morphology that are associated with chronic, compulsive intake of drugs of abuse.
Photo of Veronica Alvarez, Ph.D., Investigator


Research Interests:
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 cortex1,2. 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-takers3. Similarly, only a fraction of research animals that self-administer cocaine show addiction-like behaviors4. 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.

Selected Recent Publications:
  • Mathur BN, Capik NA, Alvarez VA, Lovinger DM (2011) Serotonin induces long-term depression at corticostriatal synapses, J Neuroscience 31, 7402-11.

  • E. Bello Gay, Y. Mateo, D.M. Gelman, D. Noain, J.H. Shin, C.M. Backman, M.J. Low, V.A. Alvarez, D.M. Lovinger and M. Rubinstein (2011) Cocaine supersensitivity and enhanced motivation for reward in mice lacking dopamine D2 autoreceptors, Nature Neuroscience 14, 1033-8.

  • A. Dobi, G.K. Seabold, C.H. Christensen, R. Bock and V.A. Alvarez (2011) Cocaine-induced plasticity in the nucleus accumbens is cell specific and develops without withdrawal, J Neuroscience 31, 1895-904.

  • P.F. Kramer, C.H. Christensen, L.A. Hazelwood, A. Dobi, R. Bock, D.R. Sibley, Y. Mateo and V.A. Alvarez (2011) Dopamine D2 receptor overexpression alters behavior and physiology in Drd2-EGFP mice, J Neuroscience 31, 126-32.

  • V.A. Alvarez and B.L. Sabatini (2007) Anatomical and physiological plasticity of dendritic spines., Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 30, 79-97.

All Selected Publications

Contact Information:

Dr. Veronica Alvarez
5625 Fishers Lane, Room TS-24
Bethesda, MD 20892-

Telephone: (301) 443-7695 (office),


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