School of Medicine

Department of Physiology


Current Research Interests in the Department of Physiology

HIV/Immune Research

Patricia E. Molina, MD, PhD  
Professor and Department Head



Current work in our laboratory is focused on understanding the biomedical consequences of alcohol abuse on outcomes from traumatic injury and HIV infection.

Laboratory Webpage  2020%2010:26:56%20AM

Liz Simon Peter, BVSc, PhD  
Associate Professor


Research in our laboratory focuses on mechanisms that regulate proliferation and differentiation of stem cells. Using animal models, we are studying epigenomic interactions that impair stem cell function contributing to dysregulated repair, regeneration and function. We are specifically interested in the dysregulation of skeletal muscle stem cell signaling that alters the fate of these cells in insults including alcohol use, HIV and disuse muscle atrophy. Our laboratory utilizes in vivo approaches, including models of alcohol administration and disuse atrophy; cell culture systems; and a wide array of molecular biology techniques to study genetic and epigenetic changes that contribute to dysfunction. Our ultimate goal is to develop epigenomic-targeted therapeutic and lifestyle interventions that improve muscle function and quality of life in aging or chronic diseases. The lab has also developed close collaborations within the department and at LSUHSC to investigate epigenomic mechanisms in metabolic dysregulation, and HIV disease.

Robert Siggins, PhD  
Associate Professor

siggins 2019

Research in my laboratory focuses on understanding the mechanisms leading to CD8+ T cell immunosenescence.  We are currently examining the role of alcohol in the setting of HIV in promoting increased T cell activation and senescence, leading to precocious aging.  Studies include examining how increased reactive oxygen species and mitochondrial damage lead to an immunosenescent phenotype. We have developed multiple flow cytometry based assays combined with downstream molecular analysis to examine these mechanisms.


Jason Gardner, PhD  


Our major research emphasis is focused on understanding the pathogenesis of heart failure.  Of particular interest are the mechanisms responsible for the adverse cardiac extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling associated with the progression of congestive heart failure. Current topics of study include:

  • the damaging effects of alcohol abuse on cardiac development and adult cardiac health,
  • the cardiac effect of inhaled nicotine and cigarette smoke,
  • the role of lysyl oxidase, a collagen crosslinking enzyme,  and related peptides in adverse myocardial ECM remodeling, and
  • sex differences in cardiac disease.

Our laboratory utilizes rodent models of cardiac disease, including models of pressure overload and chronic ventricular volume overload.  We also use primary adult cell culture to examine specific pathways involved in the remodeling process. 

Janos Paloczi, PhD
Assistant Professor


Our research aims to investigate the intricate crosstalk between the gut and heart in alcohol misuse-related pathologies. By employing a multidisciplinary approach, including echocardiography, cardiac pressure-volume catheterization, laser speckle contrast imaging, cell culture models, RNAscope, histology, or other in vitro techniques, we strive to unravel the complex interplay among gut bacteria-derived substances, cardiovascular endocannabinoids, and dysfunction associated with alcohol misuse. Understanding this relationship is crucial, as endocannabinoid signaling has significant impacts on cardiac performance, vascular tone, and inflammation. Our findings will contribute to a deeper understanding of the pathophysiology involved, potentially identifying novel therapeutic targets for mitigating cardiovascular dysfunction associated with the gut-heart axis in individuals with alcohol use disorder.


Flavia M. Souza-Smith, PhD  
Assistant Professor


The research interests of our laboratory are lymphatic vessel physiology and pathophysiological dyshomeostasis. We currently have two lines of research. The first one focuses on the effects of alcohol on lymphatic function and the immunocrosstalk between mesenteric lymphatic vessels (MLV) and perilymphatic adipose tissue (PLAT). Our approach is to investigate novel mechanisms involved in the development of adipose metabolic impairments and insulin resistance resulting from chronic alcohol consumption. Specifically, our studies examine how chronic alcohol disrupts visceral adipose immunity in response to MLV leakage. Our second line of research investigates the mechanisms underlying high fat diet and gonadal hormone loss-induced dysfunction of MLV and the metabolic consequences of lymph leakage into PLAT. These studies examine the epigenetic mechanisms involved in MLV dysfunction, in particular, microRNA-mediated alterations in tight junction protein expression and barrier function.


Elizabeth Avegno, PhD

elizabeth headshot[1130]

Brain Stress and Reward System Interactions in Alcohol Dependence. The neural adaptations that define excessive alcohol drinking in alcohol dependent individuals may include interactions between mesolimbic reward circuits and brain stress circuits. We are currently characterizing the ventral tegmental area (VTA) - central amygdala (CeA) circuit in both mice and rats by combining retro- and anterograde tracing, immunohistochemical, electrophysiological, and optogenetic techniques. Chronic intermittent exposure (CIE) to ethanol vapor is used to induce dependence in both mice and rats, and ongoing experiments are investigating alterations in this circuit following alcohol dependence, as well as the role of this circuit in alcohol dependence-associated behaviors.

Effects of Adolescent Alcohol Use on Neural Circuits. Epidemiological research points to adolescence as a critical period for the development of alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and binge drinking and early initiation of alcohol use during adolescence have been identified as important high-risk indicators. Previous research has focused on the effects of adolescent alcohol exposure on the sensitivity of VTA neurons to ethanol. Ongoing research interests continue to investigate neural adaptations following adolescent alcohol exposure in both brain stress and reward circuits.

Scott Edwards, PhD  
Associate Professor


Research interests in our laboratory center around the investigation of neurobiological changes associated with altered motivational systems in drug and alcohol dependence.  Our research strategy is to first determine alterations in neuronal signaling following excessive drug or alcohol use, and then to investigate which neuroadaptations are most critically involved in driving excessive drug intake.  A closely associated goal is to understand signaling changes induced by re-exposure to drug- or stress-paired contexts and how these processes may contribute to relapse and other motivational disorders.  Finally, our most recent focus is on the interaction of addiction and chronic pain.  Employing animal models of these conditions, we are currently investigating how persistent inflammatory pain alters central reinforcement circuitry and motivated behavior.  

Our studies primarily measure protein- and phosphoprotein-level neuroadaptations in brain centers responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the addicted state.  We are able to manipulate molecular targets within specific brain regions through a variety of technologies, including viral-mediated gene overexpression and knockdown strategies.  These projects involve close collaboration with distinguished LSUHSC and national investigators.

Nicholas W. Gilpin, PhD  

gilpin 2019web

My lab utilizes animal models to identify the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of alcohol dependence, stress disorders, pain, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In most of our projects, we are testing the combined effects of more than one of these insults on brain and behavior. Our goal is to tie neurobiological changes to behavioral changes induced by these insults. To achieve this, we use behavioral tests of drug reinforcement, arousal, nociception, anxiety,-like behavior, and locomotor activity, as well as circuit based approaches that include optogenetics and chemogenetics, anatomical tracing techniques, standard biochemical and molecular approaches, and fiber-based photometry for in vivo measurement of calcium signals. 

Laboratory Webpage  microscope clipart

Rajani Maiya, PhD  
Assistant Professor


My research interests are in understanding molecular mechanisms that underlie Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Specifically, I am interested in how experience-dependent changes in gene expression are mobilized into neuroadaptive changes that underlie the development of alcohol addiction. My work has leveraged a combination of genetic, molecular, pharmacological, and whole-genome strategies in animal models of AUD. My current research is focused on the role of the transcriptional co-factor Lim-only 4 (LMO4) in reward seeking and consumption.

Laboratory Webpage microscope clipart

Stefany Primeaux, PhD  
Associate Professor


The current research in my laboratory focuses on understanding peripheral and central mechanisms leading to obesity and related comorbidities. There are several projects in my laboratory investigating neural, behavioral and physiological factors affecting the susceptibility to developing obesity.  These studies include the assessment of fat sensing via the oral cavity in obesity-prone and obesity-resistant rats and the assessment of inflammatory markers on the risk for cardiovascular disease in obesity-prone and resistant rats. We are also interested in the role of the hypothalamic neuropeptide, QRFP, on feeding and other motivated behaviors in male and female rats.


2020%2010:45:25%20AM Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence (ADACE)

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center stimulates interdisciplinary collaborative efforts for research and teaching and the dissemination of pertinent information in the area of alcohol and drug abuse. This Center enhances the research capabilities of scientists, stimulates collaborative research efforts and strengthens educational activities in the biomedical aspects of alcohol and substance abuse throughout the Health Sciences Center. The Center is directed toward building upon existing strength, expanding and elevating our reputation in substance-abuse research, treatment and prevention.

ADACE Retreats

Pilot Program

Post-Doc Seminar Series



Comprehensive Alcohol-HIV/AIDS Research Center

The scientific focus of the Comprehensive Alcohol-HIV/AIDS Research Center (CARC) at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans is to conduct cutting edge basic research on alcohol and HIV that can be translated into effective community-based interventions. Our goal is to accelerate the translation of key basic and applied research findings on alcohol and HIV to clinical practice. The CARC provides an integrated research and administrative infrastructure for interdisciplinary collaboration in the design and conduct of studies at the cutting edge of alcohol and HIV/AIDS science.


Pilot Projects


Research Facilities on the Downtown New Orleans Campus


Most of the department's faculty members occupy laboratories and offices on the seventh floor of the Medical Education Building (MEB). Faculty conducting research as investigators of the NIAAA-supported Alcohol Research Center use laboratories in the Clinical Sciences Research Building (CSRB). 

Investigators in the Department  of Physiology enjoy state of the art research equipment including facilities and instrumentation for cell and tissue culture, RT-qPCR and Multiplex analysis, flow cytometry, and innovative animal behavioral testing. The Health Sciences Center Core Laboratories contain facilities for proteomic analysis, peptide synthesis and microsequencing, antibody production, mass spectroscopy, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, and phosphorimaging. An Image Analysis facility includes a confocal microscope as well a molecular modeling workstation.

Dedicated office space for our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is equipped with personal computers for student use with high-speed internet and a range of software for scientific research applications, including statistical analysis and graphing software.