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Dean Kirson, PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of Pharmacology, Addiction Science, and Toxicology
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
874 Union Avenue
Memphis, TN 38163
Phone: 901.448.1398


  • PhD Institution: Neuroscience, University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Neuroscience, 2014

Research Interests

My research aims to understand the neurobiological systems dysregulated by stress disorders and addiction, particularly those underlying the sex differences in the occurrence and presentation of these disorders, toward the development of better targeted pharmacotherapies for patients.

Modulation of synapses and neural circuits in alcohol dependence
We are investigating neuromodulators and neuropeptides that modulate GABAergic synaptic activity in the central amygdala (CeA), a brain region involved in both stress and addiction, and how modulation is altered following development of alcohol dependence. We are particularly interested in alcohol dependence induced dysregulation of stress-related neuropeptide systems such as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and oxytocin.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) comorbidity
We recently developed a novel model of PTSD/AUD comorbidity that uses an anticipated or an unanticipated stressor to produce key behavioral features of PTSD, such as fear generalization, hyperarousal, and sleep disturbances, with concurrent escalated alcohol intake and dysregulation of CeA GABAergic synaptic transmission in a sex-specific manner. We are using this model to identify, characterize, and compare the sex-specific neural systems underlying PTSD, separate AUD, and PTSD/AUD comorbidity.

Representative Publications

Kirson D, Steinman MQ, Wolfe SA, Spierling Bagsic SR, Bajo M, Sureshchandra S, Oleata CS, Messaoudi I, Zorrilla EP, Roberto M. Sex and context differences in the effects of trauma on comorbid alcohol use and post-traumatic stress phenotypes in actively drinking rats. J Neurosci Res. 2021 Dec;99(12):3354-3372. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24972. Epub 2021 Oct 22. PubMed PMID: 34687080; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8712392.

Kirson D, Khom S, Rodriguez L, Wolfe SA, Varodayan FP, Gandhi PJ, Patel RR, Vlkolinsky R, Bajo M, Roberto M. Sex Differences in Acute Alcohol Sensitivity of Naïve and Alcohol Dependent Central Amygdala GABA Synapses. Alcohol Alcohol. 2021 Aug 30;56(5):581-588. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agab034. PubMed PMID: 33912894; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8406056.

Steinman MQ, Kirson D, Wolfe SA, Khom S, D'Ambrosio SR, Spierling Bagsic SR, Bajo M, Vlkolinský R, Hoang NK, Singhal A, Sureshchandra S, Oleata CS, Messaoudi I, Zorrilla EP, Roberto M. Importance of sex and trauma context on circulating cytokines and amygdalar GABAergic signaling in a comorbid model of posttraumatic stress and alcohol use disorders. Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Jul;26(7):3093-3107. doi: 10.1038/s41380-020-00920-2. Epub 2020 Oct 21. PubMed PMID: 33087855; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8058115.

Tunstall BJ, Kirson D, Zallar LJ, McConnell SA, Vendruscolo JCM, Ho CP, Oleata CS, Khom S, Manning M, Lee MR, Leggio L, Koob GF, Roberto M, Vendruscolo LF. Oxytocin blocks enhanced motivation for alcohol in alcohol dependence and blocks alcohol effects on GABAergic transmission in the central amygdala. PLoS Biol. 2019 Apr;17(4):e2006421. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2006421. eCollection 2019 Apr. PubMed PMID: 30990816; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6467366.

Kirson D, Oleata CS, Parsons LH, Ciccocioppo R, Roberto M. CB1 and ethanol effects on glutamatergic transmission in the central amygdala of male and female msP and Wistar rats. Addict Biol. 2018 Mar;23(2):676-688. doi: 10.1111/adb.12525. Epub 2017 Jun 28. PubMed PMID: 28656627; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5745318.

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May 26, 2022