I am a Research Assistant Professor at Florida International University (FIU) with a broad background in cognitive neuroscience and specific training in drug abuse. My long-term goal is to become an independent scientist and develop programmatic research elucidating the impact of concomitant HIV infection and drug abuse on brain function. The immediate and overarching goal of this project is to receive training in clinically-oriented HIV translational research and establish myself as a multidisciplinary neuroAIDS scientist equipped with a variety of tools to probe the neurobehavioral complications of drug abuse in the context of HIV. Career development plan. I require mentored instruction to obtain: 1) a knowledge base in the neuroAIDS field, 2) clinical HIV research experience, 3) advanced neuroimaging data processing skills, and 4) enhanced professional development. As a training vehicle to achieve these objectives, I am proposing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to interrogate the independent and combined effects of HIV and cannabis use on brain function. Overseeing this training is my primary mentor Dr. Raul Gonzalez, an expert in the neuropsychological impact of HIV and drug abuse, and my co-mentor Dr. Angela Laird, an expert in advanced neuroimaging data analysis strategies. Additional members of my mentoring team are Dr. Mario de la Rosa (FIU, expertise: HIV/AIDS, drug abuse), Dr. Linda Chang (University of Hawaii, expertise: HIV/AIDS, neuroimaging), and Dr. Olaf Sporns (Indiana University, expertise: methods for brain network analysis). Environment. FIU has a distinguished record of research involving the twin epidemics of HIV and drug abuse and thus provides an intellectually rich environment for neuroAIDS training. In particular, Dr. Gonzalez's and Dr. Laird's lab will provide me with the intellectual, recruiting, neuropsychological, clinical computational, technical, and administrative resources needed to successfully complete my comprehensive training and research activities and thereby pursue my interests in the neuroimaging of HIV and drug abuse. Research project. Despite prevalent use, the impact of cannabis on the brain of HIV+ individuals remains relatively unexplored. The proposed research addresses this knowledge gap by using task-based and resting- state fMRI techniques to rigorously assess brain activity at the regional, network, and global levels in a sample of 100 adults stratified by cannabis use and HIV-serostatus. While little is known about the combined impact of HIV and cannabis on the brain, emerging evidence separately assessing each condition implicates the insula and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as regions of interest. These regions are critical for monitoring one's ongoing behavior for performance errors. As deficits in error processing may contribute to real-world problems such as risky behaviors, my first aim is to examine HIV's and cannabis's impact on task-based behavioral and neuronal indices (i.e. insula and ACC activity) of error awareness. Moving beyond the impact of HIV and cannabis within individual regions, my second aim examines how these conditions impact network-level interactions between the insula, ACC, and other brain regions using resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC). While these initial two aims represent a hypothesis-driven focus on specific regions, my third aim utilizes a data-driven approach to characterize the impact of HIV and cannabis across the entire brain in the context of graph theory. As graph theoretical approaches for rsFC analysis can provide added insight into the neuropathology of psychiatric conditions by characterizing altered brain network topology, my third aim allows for the delineation of global brain organization (the connectome) and thus, identification of new neurobiological targets of HIV and cannabis. Finally, a common thread through each aim is the integration of clinical and functional neuropsychological measures to enhance the relevance of fMRI findings. These results will provide a more complete view of cannabis's impact on the brain and behavior of HIV+ individuals in the service of improving quality of life, furthering neuroAIDS research, and informing public policy regarding cannabis use.
Lagging behind rapid changes to state laws, societal views, and medical practice is scientific investigation of marijuana's impact on the brain, especially in patients with HIV/AIDS. Understanding the impact of marijuana use and HIV infection on the brain is important for developing treatments to improve patients'mental functions, identifying poor candidates for medical marijuana, and providing patients, healthcare providers, and policymakers with scientific information allowing for informed decision-making regarding marijuana use.