Frances M. Leslie, PhD
Professor of Pharmacology
Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology
Associate Dean, Graduate Division
PhD, 1977, Neuropharmacology, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Summary of Research: The Francis Leslie UC Irvine laboratory focuses on an examination of the effects of abused drugs on the developing brain.
Although the group has worked extensively with other abused drugs, the current emphasis is on nicotine, the psychoactive component of tobacco. Epidemiological studies have shown that adolescence is a critical time for the initiation of tobacco use and that earlier onset of smoking increases the risk for lifetime usage.
We have shown through animal models that nicotine has unique biological effects at this age, and that brief exposure of adolescents to nicotine enhances the rewarding properties of other drugs. We are currently studying underlying mechanisms. We have also begun to evaluate the impact of exposure to nicotine during gestation on the development of the adolescent dopamine system.
Children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy show higher rates of ADHD, conduct disorder, substance abuse and obesity, and so we are investigating the behavioral, neurochemical and neuroendocrine effects of cocaine in adolescent rats exposed to prenatal nicotine.
The role of tobacco constituents in addiction. Tobacco use has one of the highest rates of addiction and relapse of any abused drug, but the animal models used to study tobacco addiction reveal nicotine to be weakly reinforcing. This phenomenon has led our lab to hypothesize that nicotine may interact with other constituents in tobacco smoke to produce its addictive effects.
We are currently evaluating the effects of tobacco constituents on reward and dependence as well as elucidating the underlying neurochemical mechanisms.
The Lab Personnel: