Center to study links between sleep and substance abuse in teens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded Pitt Psychiatry a $14M NIDA Center of Excellence (P50) grant to fund the Center for Adolescent Reward, Rhythms and Sleep (CARRS). The CARRS Center will be led by Colleen McClung, PhD, professor of psychiatry and clinical and translational science, and Daniel Buysse, MD, UPMC Professor of Sleep Medicine and professor of psychiatry and clinical and translational science.

Adolescence is a time of heightened reward sensitivity, increased impulsivity, risk taking, and increased risk for substance use. During this developmental period, hormone changes associated with puberty lead to a shift in circadian rhythms leading to later preferred bed and wake times. In addition, social and environmental factors (early high school start times, increased social interactions with peers and the use of electronic devices at night) severely disrupt normal circadian rhythms and sleep in this population. The American Academy of Pediatrics has labeled insufficient sleep among adolescents as a public health epidemic that increases risk for substance abuse and other health problems.

The goal of CARRS is to understand the impact of adolescent sleep and circadian rhythm changes on reward circuitry and substance use-relevant outcomes. CARRS investigators intend to  1) determine the role of sleep and circadian rhythms in reward sensitivity and substance use in adolescence;  2) conduct translational research aimed at the development of interventions to reduce risk in at-risk individuals; 3) partner with other Centers and the addiction research community to inform and complement ongoing research; and 4) provide training and education on sleep, circadian rhythms and substance use.

CARRS comprises five projects and three cores led by Pitt faculty from the Departments of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Biostatistics.

  • Project 1 will be directed by Peter Franzen, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, an expert in the effects of sleep deprivation on affect and reward function in human subjects, and Adriane Soehner, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Sleep, Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab.
  • Project 2 will be directed by Brant Hasler, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, psychology and clinical and translational science, who has expertise in the role of circadian rhythms in the regulation of affect and motivation in human subjects. Duncan Clark, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and Jessica Levenson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, will serve as co-investigators. Erika Forbes, PhD, professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, psychology and clinical and translational science, will add her extensive expertise in adolescent reward processing and fMRI as co-I on Project 1 and Project 2.
  • Project 3 will be led by Dr. McClung and Ryan Logan, PhD (Assistant Professor of Psychiatry), an expert in the molecular mechanisms by which circadian rhythm disruption leads to altered substance use-related behavior. 
  • Project 4 will be directed by Mary Torregrossa, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, who has expertise in the neurobiology of substance abuse, particularly in adolescents, using rodent models. (Torregrossa will also serve as co-I on Project 3.) Co-I Alan Sved, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience, is an expert in the neurobiology of nicotine addiction, including adolescent abuse. 
  • Project 5 will be led by Yanhua Huang, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, an expert in the role of sleep in the development of addiction-related behaviors in rodent models, and Yan Dong, PhD, professor of neuroscience and psychiatry, a highly accomplished expert in the addiction field. 

McClung will lead Core A: Administration, the hub for Center activities. McClung is a world leader in the study of how circadian genes and rhythms are involved in the development of substance abuse disorders. Much of McClung’s research has detailed the direct molecular mechanisms by which circadian proteins in cortico-limbic circuitry regulate neuronal activity and substance use-related behavior.

In addition to co-leading the Center with McClung, Buysse will be a co-investigator (co-I) on Project 1. Buysse is a leader in clinical and translational sleep research whose primary research focus has been on the pathophysiology and treatment of sleep disorders.Core B: Phenotyping & Biobanking will be co-directed by Logan and Clark. Core C: Data Management & Statistics will be led by Meredith Wallace, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, statistics and biostatistics, and co-led by George Tseng, ScD, professor of biostatistics, human genetics and computational & systems biology).

“The CARRS Center reflects several of the strengths that make the Pitt Department of Psychiatry unique," Buysse said. "Deep collaboration between investigators with different backgrounds; commitment to teaching and career development; and the ability to address important questions with novel methods. We really believe that the circadian and sleep perspective will change how we view the development of substance use disorders in adolescence."

"We are so excited to begin this truly translational NIDA Center of Excellence," McClung said. "This is the first NIH Center focused on the role of sleep and circadian rhythms in substance use disorders. Our goal is to make CARRS the go-to resource for cutting-edge clinical and pre-clinical science, along with education and outreach that will help reduce substance use vulnerability in adolescents.”