The work in my laboratory analyzes the impact that addictive drugs, such as prescription opioid painkillers and alcohol, have on synaptic plasticity in two different brain regions. We study the dorsal striatum, a brain region involved in the control of our actions, as well as the insular cortex, a brain region involved in self-awareness.

The Atwood laboratory has 3 primary interests:

  1. We study how alcohol and opioids affect the connections between brain cells leading to changes that will change the way animals behave. We use brain slice electrophysiology, optogenetics, viral vectors, and biochemical measurements in this work.
  2. We study brain circuits that control behavioral responses to alcohol and opioids. We use mutant mice, in vivo optogenetics, and in vivo imaging in this work.
  3. We study how prenatal opioid exposure produces long-lasting changes in brain function and animal behavior. We use a multidisciplinary approach of biochemical, physiological, anatomical, and behavioral measures to determine how this prenatal opioid exposure predisposes offspring for future neurobehavioral problems with the hopes of identifying clinical interventions.

Research: Cellular and Molecular Metabolism


  • Addiction Research
  • Neurodegenerative Disorders Research
  • Neurodevelopment Research
Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Toxicology
PhD, University of Washington, Neurobiology and Behavior, 2010
BS, Brigham Young University, Neuroscience, 2005