Visitor of the Week: Agbonlahor Okhuarobo


Meet Agbonlahor Okhuarobo of Scripps Research Institute. The Nigerian national trained as a pharmacist at the University of Benin (Nigeria) and he is now in Candice Contet’s lab working as an external graduate student finalizing a self-developed new mouse model to study the correlation between early life stress and alcohol dependence vulnerability. Since Tuesday, Agbonlahor has been at our Banbury campus taking part in our Neuroscience of Addiction course to even further understand the role of neuroscience in addictive behavior. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests include understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive drinking escalation in alcohol dependence.

At Scripps Research, I developed a novel mouse model on the interaction between early life stress and vulnerability to alcohol dependence which I will use as a tool to study the molecular underpinnings and psychopathological consequences of alcohol dependence vulnerability induced by early life stress.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became interested in alcohol addiction research during my MSc studies in the University of East London (United Kingdom), where I investigated the role of opiate and dopamine systems in alcohol preference and relapse-like behavior in Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly). I subsequently joined Scripps Research to have access to animal models and modern neuroscience research resources not available in Nigeria and took the lead on my current project. The limited bedding and nesting model of early life stress I used in developing this novel model of alcohol dependence vulnerability mimics the adverse conditions of poverty many children in Nigeria experience, some of whom go on to develop alcohol dependence later in adulthood. This novel model has many aspects of the human condition and thus will have a higher translational potential than existing models. This may lead to the development of treatment strategies for this subset of individuals dependent on alcohol.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My scientific journey began with me taking up a job as an assistant lecturer/researcher at the University of Benin (Nigeria). This role enabled me to better appreciate the enormous contribution of science in changing the lives of people with diverse diseases, and for the better. Thus, I felt a strong desire to be part of the beautiful scientific minds making our world a better place. In my role as a lecturer, I became involved in several research activities with a focus on alcohol related behavior impacted by concomitant caffeine use.

Was there something specific about the Neuroscience of Addiction course that drew you to apply?
I wanted to take advantage of my time in the US to acquire as much as possible; skill sets relevant to addiction research which are not readily available in Nigeria.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
I will include in my project, chemogentic/optogenetic and genetic manipulation of relevant neuronal projections into the nucleus accumbens to unravel the mechanisms driving the vulnerability to drinking escalation in mice with a history of early life stress.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
New insights into experimental approaches for investigating the role of relevant neural circuits in addictive behavior.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course on Neuroscience of Addiction is comprehensive and very relevant and I advise you to go for it!

What do you like most about your time at our Banbury Campus?
The quiet and beautiful environment.

Agbonlahor received financial support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Agbonlahor, thank you to NIDA for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

 Thank you to Agbonlahor for being this course's featured participant. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.