His research interests lie at the interfaces between chemistry and biology. In particular, he employs protein engineering and synthetic chemistry, coupled with light microscopy, to investigate cell signaling pathways. The goal of the proposed research is to develop genetically encoded fluorescent protein based probes for the selective detection of live-cell hydrogen sulfide, a toxin and also an important cell-signaling molecule. Funds are requested to purchase chemicals, enzymes, molecular biology kits and cell culture reagents that are required for this research. Dr. Ai received B.S. in Chemistry from Tsinghua University in 2003, and Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from the University of Alberta, Canada in 2008. After his postdoctoral work at The Scripps Research Institute, he joined the faculty at the UC Riverside in July 2011.
Approximately 18.8 million Americans suffer one major depressive episode a year, resulting in an economic burden of $83 billion. Adults suffering from major depression are twice as likely to seek illicit drug use. Furthermore, treatment of both illnesses concurrently, i.e., depression in substance abusers or substance abuse in depressed patients, is substantially more daunting. While the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin in depression and drug addiction each has been studied in great detail independently, there is currently no evidence linking behavioral symptoms of depression associated with cocaine withdraw with actual chemical changes in critical brain regions in the pathology of both disorders. This research proposal seeks to examine serotonin dysfunction and its associated symptoms during withdrawal from cocaine use. The forced swim test and microdialysis in freely moving mice, two well-established approaches, will be employed to obtain behavioral and chemical data, respectively, to examine the pathogenesis of depression in mice suffering from cocaine addiction. The proposed studies will provide valuable information on serotonergic changes associated with behavioral manifestations. This may lead to further investigations of other brain chemicals. Taken altogether, future goals include translation of this information into the clinical setting for more rational medication development for the treatment and prevention of patients suffering from depression while going through drug withdrawal.