Dr Kelly Clemens is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology, Faculty of Science, UNSW.
She has studied at the University of Otago and University of Sydney, with post-doctoral experience at the University of Bordeaux, France, and Macquarie University, Sydney, before establishing her own laboratory at UNSW in 2012.
My first major focus asks - why is it so hard to stop taking addictive drugs? Despite knowing that drugs are dangerous to their wellbeing, many people continue their use - they find it extremely difficult to cut down or stop, despite significant health or social consequences. My research focuses on the changes that occur in the brain following drug use and what the implications for quitting. We find that what is learned under the influence of drugs of addiction is different. That is, people, places and paraphernalia present when drugs are ingested, take on an exaggerated meaning to the drug user. These cues can maintain drug seeking in the absence of the drug itself, or lead to strong cravings and ultimately relapse. To address this question we use sophisticated behavioural studies in combination with photometry to assess time-specific changes in brain activity.
A second theme in my lab asks how these drug-cue associations are formed in the brain and how they can persist for such a long time. Research has shown that not only are drugs present at the same time as these cues, but that many drugs of abuse are actually changing the way the brain learns about these cues. Through interacting with DNA itself, many drugs 'switch on' genes that are important for learning. When the user is learning about what predicts or accompanies drug use, this information is stored so much more robustly than normal. Our current focus is on identifying histone modifications present after nicotine exposure, and assessing the potential involvement of long non-coding RNA in addiction.
A third major theme in my laboratory addresses the consequences of prenatal drug exposure and the long-term outcomes for offspring. Working closely with Neonatologists at the Royal Hospital for Women, we are characterising changes in the brain and behaviour of rats prenatally exposed to opioids, with a particular focus on possible preventative or treatment measures. We are investigating the potential role of inflammation in Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS), and whether epigenetic changes incurred across the prenatal period may underlie the behavioural deficits observed in adolescence and adulthood.
PSYC 3051 Physiological Psychology
NEUR 4411 Neuroscience Honours: Behavioural Neuroscience (Course Convenor)