Education: University of Houston, 1970
Research interests: Animal models of drug dependence, behavioral pharmacology, toxicology, excitatory amino acids, inhalation studies and health policy
Drugs used in the treatment of behavioral disorders and drugs of abuse have complex effects on human behavior. The science of behavioral pharmacology is the study of drug effects on behavior under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, where the pharmacological and psychological determinants of drug action can be isolated and investigated. The major focus of this laboratory is the study of drugs of abuse and alcohol. Mice, rats, squirrel monkeys and rhesus monkeys are trained using operant conditioning procedures to perform various complex behaviors. Dedicated computers are used for the control and recording of these behaviors. Two procedures utilized extensively are drug discrimination and drug self-administration. In the former, mice, rats or monkeys are trained to perceive when they have received a drug injection and indicate the type of drug by making a particular response. This can be considered an animal model for subjective drug effects in humans. In the second procedure, rhesus monkeys learn to respond in order to receive an intravenous drug injection. Most drugs of abuse are readily self-administered under these conditions. Using these and other procedures, we have studied drug tolerance and dependence, structure-activity relationships, drug interactions, drug abuse liability, the effects of direct intracerebral injections, and the evaluation of new medications to treat drug abuse.
Recently one of the focuses of our work has been on the neurobehavioral basis of phencyclidine and alcohol abuse, and how the interactions of these and other drugs with excitatory amino acid neurotransmission can be used to explain their behavioral actions. One goal of this research is to examine and compare the behavioral specificity of action of site-selective NMDA antagonists and GABA agonists in a variety of animal models.
We also are studying the behavioral effects of volatile chemicals, some of which are abused, and some of which are commonly encountered in the home or workplace. The same procedures used to study drugs can be used to study toxicants, which may have behavioral effects via actions on the nervous system. We have found a striking overlap in the behavioral effects of abused inhalants and ethanol, suggesting that there may be a common neural basis for the abuse of these compounds.
In another project we are studying the neural basis of cocaine abuse. The approach being used for these studies is to examine structure-activity relationships of novel cocaine analogs and other drugs that act upon the dopamine transporter for their discriminative and reinforcing effects. These behavioral studies are being carried out in conjunction with other investigators who are studying their biochemical actions. It is hoped that the role of the cocaine site on the dopamine transporter in mediating effects of cocaine will be determined from these studies and that the results may lead to the development of medications for treatment of cocaine abuse.
Bhat SJ, Blank MD, Balster RL, Nichter M, Nichter M. (2010) Areca nut dependence among chewers in a South Indian community who do not also use tobacco. Addiction. 2010 Jul;105(7):1303-10.
Johanson CE, Balster RL, Henningfield JE, Schuster CR, Anthony JC, Barthwell AG, Coleman JJ, Dart RC, Gorodetzky CW, O'Keeffe C, Sellers EM, Vocci F, Walsh SL. (2009) Risk management and post-marketing surveillance for the abuse of medications acting on the central nervous system: expert panel report. Drug Alcohol Depend. 105 Suppl 1:S65-71.
Balster RL, Johanson CE, Walsh SL. (2009) Risk management and post-marketing surveillance of CNS drugs: an introduction. Drug Alcohol Depend. 105 Suppl 1:S1-3.
Magid V, Colder CR, Stroud LR, Nichter M, Nichter M; TERN Members. (2009) Negative affect, stress, and smoking in college students: unique associations independent of alcohol and marijuana use. Addict Behav. 34(11):973-5.
Nicholson KL, Balster RL, Golembiowska K, Kowalska M, Tizzano JP, Skolnick P, Basile AS. (2009) Preclinical evaluation of the abuse potential of the analgesic bicifadine. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 330(1):236-48.
Balster RL, Cruz SL, Howard MO, Dell CA, Cottler LB. (2009) Classification of abused inhalants. Addiction. 104(6):878-82.
Nicholson KL, Balster RL. (2009) The discriminative stimulus effects of N-methyl-D-aspartate glycine-site ligands in NMDA antagonist-trained rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 203(2):441-51.
Shelton, K.L. and Balster, R.L. Effets of g-aminobutyric agonists and N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonists on a multiple schedule of ethanol and saccharin self-administration in rats. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 280:1250-1260, 1997.