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Rajeev Indrajit Desai, Ph.D.

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Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA, USA2021Director, Integrative Neurochemistry Laboratory, Behavioral Biology Program
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA, USA2010Assistant Professor of Psychiatry - Behavioral Biology Program
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA, USA2007Instructor of Psychiatry - Preclinical Pharmacology Laboratory
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA, USA2006Research Fellow - Preclinical Pharmacology Laboratory
National Institute on Drug Abuse/NIH, Baltimore, USA2002-20Research Fellow - Psychobiology, Medications Discovery Research Branch
University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom2001Post-Doctoral Fellow - Psychology
University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United KingdomPh.D.2001Psychology/Behavioral Pharmacology
University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United KingdomB.Sc.08/1995Neuroscience
2003 - 2004
American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)-Behavioral Pharmacology
European Behavioural Pharmacology Society (EBPS)-Travel Award
European Behavioural Pharmacology Society (EBPS)-Travel Award
2000 - 2001
One Year Research Studentship
European Behavioural Pharmacology Society (EBPS)-Travel Award
1998 - 1999
British Psychological Society Post-graduate Study Visit Scheme 1998
1998 - 2000
British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP)-Travel Award

Dr. Desai’s Integrative Neurochemistry Laboratory combines cutting-edge neurochemical techniques with behavioral methodologies in to examine how drugs of abuse or environmental stressors alter brain neurochemical mechanisms to cause behavioral abnormalities that are associated with addiction and neuropsychiatric conditions. Based on these insights, Dr. Desai aims to evaluate the utility of novel treatment strategies that may help manage drug abuse and addiction as well as their co-morbidity with neuropsychiatry conditions.

Early research by Dr. Desai showed that behavioral effects of psychomotor stimulants are paralleled by graded increases in brain dopamine (DA) efflux and that the quantitative nature of this relationship is not altered by a history of stimulant exposure. These results have significant implications for current concepts of addiction, particularly in relation to neuroadaptive changes in the dopaminergic system. He and his colleagues have further characterized the association between changes in brain neurochemistry and behavioral actions of stimulants in genetically modified mice with altered neurochemical milieu in targeted brain regions (i.e., nucleus accumbens) in predictable ways. More recently, Dr. Desai has developed methods combining microdialysis with cutting-edge Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) analysis to map real-time changes in neurochemical signatures (e.g., monoamines, amino acids, metabolites, endocannabinoids) in the brain that may be induced by exposure to drugs of abuse, other environmental stressors, and neuropsychiatric conditions. Dr. Desai and his team are using this approach to chart how stimulants, opioids, and cannabinoids alter neurochemistry in targeted brain regions (e.g., reward circuit) that may play a key role in their abuse-related behavioral effects.

In recent years, Dr. Desai’s research program has expanded to include NASA-funded investigations to delineate the impact of spaceflight stressors (e.g., space radiation, sleep deprivation, social isolation, and microgravity) alone and in combination on neurochemical signatures that may cause neurocognitive deficits. The possibility of acute and long-term CNS damage to humans induced by these spaceflight stressors during deep space travel is the most poorly explored health risk in ground-based studies of space biology. NASA is deeply concerned about the impact of combined exposure to spaceflight stressors on CNS systems that play a key role in operationally-relevant behavioral and neurocognitive function in-flight and as well terrestrial risk of manifesting neurodegenerative conditions when astronauts return to earth. This information gap has significantly hindered NASA’s ability to realistically estimate spaceflight risk to the CNS, and, consequently, impeded the development of future human deep space missions. Research conducted by Dr. Desai and his colleagues aim to provide key information that will allow NASA to accurately predict how exposure to spaceflight hazards during deep space exploration impacts CNS neurobiological function and help facilitate future human deep space travel, i.e., a mission to Mars.

Over the last decade, Dr. Desai and his team has also been engaged in evaluating the potential of new treatment strategies to help manage addiction to various drugs of abuse. For example, work in his laboratory has shown that nicotinic partial agonist’s do not effectively block behavioral effects of nicotinic ligands, suggesting that that these drugs alone probably will not suffice to effectively combat tobacco addiction and that alternative strategies are needed for smoking cessation programs. Along these lines, in collaboration with biopharmaceutical industry, Dr. Desai evaluated the effects of a novel nanoparticle-based anti-nicotine vaccine on the subjective effects of nicotine in nicotine-naïve and nicotine-experienced monkeys. This work demonstrated that an anti-nicotine vaccine can effectively prevent the expression of nicotine’s effects in nicotine-naïve monkeys and produce long-term and substantive reduction in nicotine’s effects in nicotine-experienced monkeys. Collectively, these observations mark a key advance in our understanding of biobehavioral processes involved in tobacco addiction, and as well, in developing effective pharmacological/immunological medication strategies for smoking cessation. Dr. Desai has expanded this line of research to examine the ability of candidate monoclonal antibodies to counter the adverse effects of nicotine and the opioid fentanyl.

The research activities and funding listed below are automatically derived from NIH ExPORTER and other sources, which might result in incorrect or missing items. Faculty can login to make corrections and additions.
  1. HRDTRA12210024 (Rajeev I. Desai) Jun 6, 2022 - Jul 6, 2027
    Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) / DOD
    Assessing the Impact of Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) Inhibition on Cognition and Brain Neurochemistry
    Role: Principal Investigator
  2. U01 DA045000-01 Sep 1, 2020 - Aug 31, 2022
    NIDA/NIH - Cessation Therapeutics
    Process Development, Manufacturing, and Preclinical Evaluation of a Monoclonal Antibody for Fentanyl Overdose
    Role: Subcontract PI
  3. 1U01DA047791-01 Dec 1, 2018 - Nov 20, 2020
    Astrea Therapeutics
    Development of a novel drug candidate with a first-in-class mechanism for smoking cessation, relapse, and abstinence
    Role: Subcontract PI
  4. TXS0147017 (Rajeev I. Desai) Nov 20, 2018 - Feb 28, 2023
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/KBRWyle
    Neurochemical Biomarkers Involved in Neurobehavioral Performance Pathways
    Role: Principal Investigator
  5. R01 5DA045000 Sep 12, 2017 - Jun 30, 2022
    Neurobiological mechanisms of prescription opioid withdrawal
    Role: Co-Investigator

Publications listed below are automatically derived from MEDLINE/PubMed and other sources, which might result in incorrect or missing publications. Faculty can login to make corrections and additions.
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Funded by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, grant number UL1TR002541.