About the Author
Todd E. Thiele joined Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina in 2001, where he has developed over the years the main objective of his work: to identify the neurobiological mechanisms in the brain that drive excessive alcohol (ethanol) consumption, and to identify the plastic changes that occur in the brain during the transition to ethanol dependence. To address these questions, he has focused on two neurobiological systems. One system integrating emotional responses, and involves a functionally interconnected set of brain regions often referred to as the extended amygdala. The second system involves brain circuitry modulating motivated behaviors associated with the acquisition and consumption of natural rewards. Converging evidence, both from the pre-clinical and clinical literature, suggests that ethanol usurps or "hijacks" the brain neurocircuitry that regulates emotions and responses to natural rewards, causing long-term changes that are associated with abnormal function. These changes trigger negative emotions and cause natural rewards to lose their reinforcing value, both outcomes which are thought to trigger uncontrolled ethanol intake. His hope is that by identifying how the brain changes over the course of heavy ethanol use, he may help identify pharmaceutical approaches that may prevent individuals that abuse ethanol from progressing to a state of dependence.