Section Head Neuroscience and Reproductive Biology
Dr. Byrnes received her PhD in Neuroscience from The Ohio State University working with Dr. John Bruno to study the neurodevelopmental effects of dopamine deficiency. She then received additional postdoctoral training as a NIH fellow in Neuroimmunology (OSU) and Neuroendocrinology (Tufts University). Taking a somewhat uncommon career path, Dr. Byrnes maintained a part-time Research Assistant Professor position at the Cummings School for almost 10 years while her caring for her four children. In 2009 she was appointed to an Assistant Professor position and went on to develop a robust research program with a primary emphasis on neural and endocrine consequences of female opioid use.
Dr. Byrnes has a long-standing interest in improving the translational value of animal models, particularly in the context of both age- and sex-specific effects. Outside of the lab her interests include both education and community outreach initiatives. In that capacity, she served as the Chair of the Decisions at Every Turn Coalition, a community-based youth substance abuse prevention coaltion funded by a Federal Drug Free Communities grant. Additionally, Dr. Byrnes was the past President of the Boston Area Neuroscience Group, the local chapter of the Society for Neuroscience for the Boston area. Currently, she serves as the faculty advisor for the Gap Junction selective at the Cummings School, a veterinary medicine outreach program for middle school students from diverse backgrounds.
PhD, The Ohio State University, 1995
BA, University of Massachusetts, 1991
General Research Interests
Our lab uses preclinical modeling of neurological disorders to identify epigenetic modifications impacting both symptom severity and long-term outcomes. We are particularly interested in effects that are age- and/or sex-specific as well as effects that can be passed on to future generations (i.e. transgenerational epigenetic effects). Much of our work focuses on substance use disorders with a primary focus on opioids.
Selected Research Projects
Prenatal Oxycodone Exposure and Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome: Our lab uses a model of prenatal oxycodone self-administration (rat) to examine the impact of voluntary opioid intake on offspring outcomes. We are currently investigating postnatal measures that can be effectively used to document withdrawal and correlate with adult behaviors. In addition, we study modifications in neurodevelopmental protein expression and how these changes may impact on adult addiction-related behaviors. All studies include assessments of both male and female offspring.
Adolescent Opioid Exposure: Our lab uses animal models (mouse and rat) to examine the effects of opioid exposure during adolescent development on future generations. Specifically, we examine how a history of drug use in either adolescent females or males can alter the neurodevelopment of future offspring. The mechanisms involved in the transmission of effects from parent to offspring and the stability of these modifications across multiple generations are the primary focus of current studies. In particular, we are interested in the role of epigenetic modifications in the hypothalamus that can impact both metabolic processes and reward-related behaviors, including addiction. These studies may serve as a model of epigenetic mechanisms involved in the transfer of experiential information across multiple generations.
Opioid Relapse: Risk Factors and Treatment Approaches: People living with an opioid use disorder are at high risk for relapse. Understanding neurobiological factors that influence relapse vulnerability can help advance novel treatments. Our lab investigates environmental factors that impact relapse risk, using animal models to identify mechanisms underlying known risk factors in human populations, such as early life stress. In addition, we are currently conducting pre-IND enabling studies to determine the efficacy of intranasal glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) to prevent opioid relapse.