Smoking tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and efforts to reduce smoking have stagnated (from the CDC, 2009). If we are to continue to reduce smoking rates we must understand the mechanisms that make nicotine addictive. Like other drugs of abuse, nicotine exerts its influence on the brain, in part, by controlling gene expression. This control can occur on the order of minutes to decades. Our laboratory’s research addresses how these alterations shape the behaviors related to addiction. As an overarching theme, we are interested in individual differences in processes of reward, reinforcement, and withdrawal. We see three broad areas of this work, all of which might act by altering gene expression:


Complex Genetics – Individual Differences in risk of addiction are clearly not caused by variants of a single gene. There are many genes involved in addiction, which requires complex analysis to assess their effects.


Epigenetics – One mechanism by which individual differences in addiction might arise through modification of DNA without changing the base sequence.


Gene-Environment Interactions – A particular DNA sequence, or epigenetic modification, might alter risk of addiction only if combined with a specific environment.

Further information about Dr. Vandenbergh can be found at his departmental home page here

General descriptions of Dr. Vandenbergh’s lab (known as BBH Molecular Genetics Laboratory) can be found here

Other programs Dr. Vandenbergh is affiliated with:

Bioinformatics and Genomics Program

Neuroscience Program

Genetics Program



Research Overview