About the lab…

The  Pickens lab is recruiting new graduate students for Fall 2018!  See the “Join the lab!” tab for more information.


The Pickens lab is interested in the long-term effects of CNS depressants on learning, memory and decision-making long after the exposure to the drug has ended. Our current focus is on the effects of alcohol and the anesthetic/hallucinogen ketamine (aka: “Special K”).

We study the effects of these drugs using behavioral, pharmacological, and neuroanatomical methods (lesions and inactivations, functional neuroanatomy and chemogenetic techniques) in rodents and behavioral testing in humans to support four lines of research on this area.

1: What are the long-term effects of exposure to the anesthetic/hallucinogenic drug ketamine on learning and decision-making long after the ketamine is out of the system, and how do these effects compare to the effects of neurotoxic brain lesions? This project is primarily run by one of the graduate students- Hayley Fisher.


Pickens, C.L., Aurand, L., Hunt, J., & Fisher, H. (2017). Subchronic anesthetic ketamine injections in rats impair choice reversal learning, but have no effect on reinforcer devaluation. Behavioural Pharmacology, 28, 294-302. Pubmed

ComparisonPV Neurons


2: What is the neurobiological basis of increases in fear across the weeks following traumatic events (fear incubation) and how is this affected by potential medications to decrease fear or alcohol use (which could be a form of self-medication)? This project is primarily run by one of the graduate students- Alisa Pajser.

fear protocolTimecourse


3: What is the relationship between voluntary alcohol consumption during adolescence or adulthood on learning and decision-making long after the alcohol is out of the system… and if voluntary alcohol consumption is associated with altered learning, could this because of genetic influences or because alcohol causes neurotoxicity in the brain? This project is primarily run by one of the graduate students- Alicia Lensing.


Pickens, C.L., Fisher, H., Bright, N., Gallo, M., Ray, M.H., Anji, A., & Kumari, M. (2016). Prior alcohol consumption does not impair go/no-go discrimination learning, but causes over-responding on go trials, in rats. Behavioural Brain Research, 312, 272-278. Pubmed

Fisher, H., Bright, N., Gallo, M., Pajser, A., & Pickens, C.L. (in press). Effects of low-dose adolescent/early adult voluntary alcohol consumption on behavioral flexibility. Behavioural Pharmacology.



4: Are the behavioral patterns we see after alcohol access in rodents also seen in humans with a history of alcohol exposure? We investigate this issue by testing human participants in versions of the tasks that we have previously seen to be affected by/associated with alcohol consumption in rodents, and comparing their behavior to that of our rats. This project is open for any potential graduate student who would like to take it on.


PS: Sorry for the lack on labels on this one. The testing only works if participants can’t read about the purpose of our experiment on the internet.