The goal of Dr. Li’s research is to acquire and provide the knowledge that is necessary for the development of novel and effective molecular and pharmacological means that will prevent or treat stress-related affective disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many lines of evidence have suggested a central role of the amygdala in stress-related emotional illnesses and PTSD. In fear conditioning (an experimental paradigm that is similar to PTSD and other anxiety disorders), the amygdala appears to be the site of emotional memory storage. The amygdala also plays a very important role in modulating the consolidation on emotional memory. In PTSD patients, the amygdala displays hypertrophy and hyperexcitability. For these reasons, my research program has been centered in the amygdala cellular neurobiology. My objectives are as follows:
To understand the neuronal physiology and mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the amygdala. Included in this objective is the identification of the role of neuromodulators that are known to affect emotional behavior and affective disorders.
To determine how amygdala physiology and plasticity are altered following exposure to a stressor that mimics traumatic stressors that result in PTSD. The accomplishment of this objective requires the use of an appropriate animal model. The inescapable tail-shock paradigm in rats that I have developed in my laboratory has been shown to induce elevated basal corticosterone levels, weight loss, deficits in escape/avoidance learning and an exaggerated startle response, all of which have been observed in PTSD patients.
To develop pharmacological interventions that will prevent or treat stress-induced pathophysiological alterations of the amygdala. To date, his research group has made significant strides in the accomplishment of these objectives. There is significant potential for the development of improved strategies for the prevention and/or treatment of PTSD based on the research carried out in his laboratory.