by Janice Hamilton
Psychology Professor Andreas Arvanitogiannis has been awarded a Canada
Research Chair in behavioural neurobiology, and a $426,000 infrastructure
grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
The chair, announced last Thursday, means a lot to the university, says
Claude Bédard, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. It
will raise our profile in research. This is the first chair awarded
to Concordia through the Canada Research Chairs Program, a federal government
initiative designed to support research opportunities at Canadian universities.
Innovation and quality rewarded
The chair brings $100,000 a year for five years to emerging researchers
who have the potential to be world leaders in their fields. The funding
pays their salaries and supports research projects that have been judged
innovative and of high quality. Arvanitogiannis, who is associated with
Concordias Centre for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology (CSBN),
is studying influences on behaviour that is directed towards goals or
Arvanitogiannis, who was born in Greece, is one of Concordias rising
stars. He did his undergraduate studies and a PhD and post-doctoral work
at Concordia, and received a Medical Research Council Fellowship that
allowed him to spend a year and a half at Harvard University, where he
learned new techniques in molecular biology.
With this newly acquired expertise and the CFI infrastructure grant, he
will be able to bring state-of-the art equipment to the CSBN labs. The
internationally known CSBN promotes interdisciplinary research on fundamental
brain mechanisms underlying motivation and learning.
To understand the links between the brain and behaviour, researchers at
the Centre for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology combine traditional
behavioural techniques with neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, pharmacology,
endocrinology, molecular biology, electrophysiology, and brain imaging.
Arvanitogiannis has focused his research on two main areas, and now he
plans to merge them and see what insights that approach will bring. The
first area is goal-directed behaviour, such as the kinds of behaviours
humans and animals demonstrate when they search for food. He has expanded
that investigation to include drug abuse, which is a compulsive type of
Substance abuse and mental disorders are characterized by problems
of drive and impulse control that impair a persons ability to structure
behaviour toward future goals, Arvanitogiannis explained. These
problems also reflect disturbances in basic brain mechanisms of goal-directed
behaviour. He expects that greater understanding of the neurobiological
basis of goal-directed behaviour will reveal new approaches to treating
substance abuse and mental disorders.
The second area that interests him is circadian rhythms, or the biological
clock that seems to guide rhythmical aspects of behaviour. This
system is well worked out; we know where it is located, and we know a
lot about the molecular biology of it.
He noted that the values of certain goals can change over time. For example,
sleep wont have a high value at lunchtime, but food will. He hopes
that putting what is known about the brains reward system and the
circadian system together will bring new revelations about the way different
systems in the brain interact with each other.
Arvanitogiannis will explore the behavioural, cellular and molecular mechanisms
by which specialized neural circuits interact to produce motivated, goal-directed
behaviour. He explained that the control of behaviour is the outcome
of an interaction among multiple, interconnected neural systems with specialized
In other words, changes in behaviour as a function of time may be
related to endogenous (internal) rhythms, physiological state, external
stimuli that are significant for survival, and knowledge derived from
prior experience about where, when and what predict the occurrence of
these incentive stimuli. He plans to analyze these components individually,
then study their interactions.