Dr. Alcantara’s research program focuses on elucidating the underlying neural basis of alcoholism and drug addiction. Her lab combines state-of-the-art behavioral, neuroanatomical and pharmacological procedures that will provide insight into the underlying mechanisms of addiction and related clinical disorders such as Tourette's Syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Neurobiological studies have identified specific brain areas and molecular mechanisms involved in substance abuse and dependence. Specific cell types in these brain areas and their role in addiction, however, have not yet been identified. Dr. Alcantara’s research program, funded by NIDA and NIAAA, has uniquely identified cholinergic interneurons of the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex as key players in addiction. These cells are reportedly involved in the initiation and maintenance of addiction as well as cue-induced relapse. Another major challenge in the field that has remained has been to identify long-term changes in the brain that underlie such drug-induced persistent behaviors as tolerance, sensitization, craving and relapse. Dr Alcantara’s Neural Basis of Addiction Laboratory has recently found the first electron microscopic evidence of synaptic rewiring in association with cocaine-induced behavioral sensitization. Such synaptic remodeling may represent a potential neural substrate underlying the persistence of addiction. Identifying specific neuronal circuits and related plasticity will improve our understanding of the cellular basis of addiction. Improved site-specific pharmacotherapeutic, genetic and behavioral treatment programs for alcoholism and drug addiction can then target these circuits.


Research Interests

  • Drug Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Neurodevelopment


Alcantara, A.A., Lim H.Y., Floyd C.E., Garces J., Mendenhall J.M., Lyons C.L., & Berlanga M.L. (2010). Cocaine- and Morphine-Induced Synaptic Plasticity in the Nucleus Accumbens. Synapse.   PMID: 20730804

Bao, H., Berlanga, M.L., Xue, M., Hapip, S.M., Daniels, R.W., Mendenhall, J.M. Alcantara, A.A., Zhang, B. (2007). The Atypical Cadherin Flamingo Regulates Synaptogenesis and Helps Prevent Axonal and Synaptic Degeneration in Drosophilia. Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, 34:662-678.   

Camp, M. C., Mayfield, R. D., McCracken, M.L., McCracken, L.M. & Alcantara, A. A. (2006). Neuroadaptations of Cdk5 in Cholinergic Interneurons of the Nucleus Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex of Inbred Alcohol-Preferring Rats Following Voluntary Alcohol Drinking.Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 30 (8):1322-1335.   

Berlanga, M. L., Simpson T. K., Chen V, & Alcantara, A. A. (2005). Dopamine D5 Receptor Localization on Cholinergic Neurons of the Rat Forebrain and Diencephalon: A Potential Neuroanatomical Substrate Involved in Mediating Dopaminergic Influences on Acetylcholine Release. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 492:34-49.   

Herring, B. E., Mayfield, R. D., Camp, M. C., & Alcantara, A. A. (2004). Ethanol- Induced Fos Immunoreactivity in the Extended Amygdala and Hypothalamus of the Rat Brain: Focus on Cholinergic Interneurons of the Nucleus Accumbens. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 28   

Berlanga, M. L., Olsen, C. M., Chen, V., Ikegami, A., Herring, B. E., Duvauchelle, C. L., & Alcantara, A. A. (2003). Cholinergic Interneurons of the Nucleus Accumbens and Dorsal Striatum are Activated by the Self-Administration of Cocaine. Neuroscience, 120 (4):1149-1156.   

Alcantara, A. A., Chen, V. C., Herring, B. E., Mendenhall, J. M., & Berlanga, M. L. (2003). Localization of Dopamine D2 Receptors on Cholinergic Interneurons of the Dorsal Striatum and Nucleus Accumbens of the Rat. Brain Research, 986:22-29.   

Alcantara, A. A., Mrzljak, L., Jakab, R. L., Levey, A. I., Hersch, S. M., & Goldman-Rakic, P. S. (2001). Muscarinic m1 and m2 Receptor Proteins in Local Circuit and Projection Neurons of the Primate Striatum: Anatomical Evidence for Cholinergic Modulation of Glutamatergic Prefronto-Striatal Pathways. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 434:445-460.

Anderson, B. J., Alcantara, A. A., & Greenough, W. T. (1996). Motor Skill Learning: Changes in Synaptic Organization of the Rat Cerebellar Cortex. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 66:221-229.   

Alcantara, A. A., Srinivasan, S., Reilein, A. R., & Karr, T. L (1995). aAntibodies Directed Against Microtubule Proteins from Drosophila Melanogaster Cross React with Similar Proteins in the Rat Brain. Brain Research, 701:47-54.   

Anderson, B. J., Li, X., Alcantara, A. A., Isaacs, K. R., Black, J. E., & Greenough, W. T. (1994). Glial Hypertrophy Is Associated With Synaptogenesis Following Motor-Skill Learning, but not With Angiogenesis Following Exercise. Glia, 11:73-80.   

Alcantara, A. A., & Greenough, W. T. (1993). Developmental Regulation of Fos and Fos-Related Antigens in Cerebral Cortex, Striatum, Hippocampus, and Cerebellum of the Rat. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 334:75-85.

Alcantara, A. A., Pfenninger, K. H., & Greenough, W. T. (1992). 5B4-CAM Expression Parallels Neurite Outgrowth and Synaptogenesis in the Developing Rat Brain. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 319:337-348.   

Isaacs, K. R., Anderson, B. J., Alcantara, A. A., Black, J. E., & Greenough, W. T. (1992). Exercise and the Brain: Angiogenesis in the Adult Rat Cerebellum After Vigorous Physical Activity and Motor Skill Learning. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, 12:110-119.   

Black, J. E., Isaacs, K. R., Anderson, B. J., Alcantara, A. A., & Greenough, W. T. (1990). Learning Causes Synaptogenesis, Whereas Motor Activity Causes Angiogenesis, in Cerebellar Cortex of Adult Rats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 87:5568-5572.