Pre-clinical research

Pre-clinical Research

The pre-clinical team led by Emmanuel Darcq and Prof. Brigitte Kieffer is studying the role of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in addictive disorders. GPCRs are major targets in biomedicine and offer enormous potential in the field of mental illness. To this end, we are developing and studying genetically modified models (knockout, conditional, knock-in) for GPCRs of interest using pioneering approaches, including:

  1. behavioral phenotyping
  2. non-invasive, high-resolution structural and functional MRI techniques in live animals (whole brain)
  3. cutting-edge circuit technologies (opto-/chemogenetics).

This combination of in vivo approaches enables us to target both neuronal signaling at the cellular level and neuronal connectivity throughout the brain.

Our laboratory places particular emphasis on:

  1. opioid receptors, studying their role in the reward system as well as in addiction, and mood disorders
  2. a selection of orphan GPCRs whose functions are not yet known, in an exploratory project.


Emmanuel Darcq, PhD

Leader of pre-clinical research


My previous work has focused on the neurobiology of opiate and alcohol abuse. I have studied the involvement of numerous brain regions, with a particular interest in a fascinating brain region, the habenula. I did my PhD at the IGBMC in Prof. Brigitte Kieffer's team on molecular and behavioral adaptations in morphine responses. I then completed a post-doctorate at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF, USA) in Prof. Dorit Ron's laboratory, where I studied the signaling pathways regulating the transition from moderate to excessive alcohol consumption. During this period, I also worked on the role of miRNAs in this loss of control. I then joined McGill University (Montreal, Canada) as a research associate to develop projects focusing on the roles of the mu opioid receptor in habenula, aversive responses and brain communication. In December 2020, I joined INSERM unit 1114 at CRBS as a Research Associate in Prof. Brigitte Kieffer's team. My work aims to determine the functions of habenular neurons in opiate addiction with a view to improving treatment against opiate use disorders. This research will integrate analysis of neuronal activity at both local and whole-brain levels. In the long term, my research goals are to identify molecular targets, circuit mechanisms and new biomarkers that could be useful in the development of therapies to treat opiate dependence.



Brigitte Kieffer, PhD

Emeritus Professor


B.L. Kieffer is Director of Research at INSERM since 2019, Professor Emeritus since 2023. Previously, she was Professor at the University of Strasbourg, where she developed her research at the IGBMC, one of Europe's leading biomedical research centers, then Professor at McGill University (Department of Psychiatry) and Scientific Director of the Douglas Institute. By isolating the first gene coding for an opioid receptor, she opened up the field of exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying nociceptive responses, and behaviors linked to reward processes and stress responses. Her work on the opioid system has led to major advances in pain, addiction and mood disorders, as well as in molecular pharmacology and GPCR research. She has built and shared internationally unique genetic tools for biomedical and neuroscience research. Brigitte Kieffer has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Lounsbery Prize (French and American Academies of Sciences) and the Lamonica Prize for Neurology (Academy of Sciences). In March 2014, she also received the L'Oréal-Unesco Prize for Women in Science. She was appointed a member of EMBO in 2009 and of the Académie des Sciences (France) in 2013. She has published around 300 papers in international journals and given over 200 lectures worldwide.



Judith Meyer
Technical personnel


After obtaining my Master's degree at the University of Strasbourg, I started working in Dijon, then joined unit 1329 (formerly 1114) at the CRBS in Strasbourg. In the team, I am in charge of all our experimental models that are part of our team's projects. At the same time, I assist researchers, post-docs and PhD candidates with their work. I also supervise some trainees to teach them the experiments we carry out in our laboratoy.

When I am not at work, I like to make the most of my free time by going horse-riding!


Gabriele Giua

Postdoctoral fellow

I'm currently a post-doctoral fellow in the CRBS Addictions team. 
My career path led me here after obtaining my PhD in neuroscience at INMED, in Dr. Olivier Manzoni's team. During this period, I explored the neurobiological substrates of socio-behavioral alterations in a model of autism.
My current research at CRBS focuses on the contribution of mu-opioid receptor-expressing neurons of the lateral hypothalamus to hedonic regulation. My project involves: (i) mapping the connectivity of these neurons using tracing and neuroimaging techniques; (ii) characterizing their cellular activity in response to positively valenced stimuli using fiberphotometry; (iii) examining the consequences of their chemo/optogenetic modulation on behavioral response.
When I'm not in the lab, I like to take walks in the magnificent Alsatian countryside!


Dersu Özdemir

PhD candidate


I am a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Strasbourg. Originally from Turkey, I completed my Bachelor and master's studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris before joining the addiction team in the CRBS. My project centres on negative emotions that arise during opioid withdrawal. I study opioid-responsive neurons in a tiny brain structure called the habenula, and how they contribute to the development of negative feelings during morphine withdrawal. The techniques I use to better understand these habenular neurons include sophisticated behavioural assays, chemogenetics and fiber photometry.

When I am not in the lab, you can finding me learning Latin or Oriental dances, or searching for the best food and wine in Strasbourg!


Esther Colantonio

PhD candidate


I am a 1st year of my PhD at the University of Strasbourg. After completing my Bachelor in Nancy at the University of Lorraine, I did my master's internship in the addiction team at the CRBS, where I am now pursuing my PhD. My project focuses on polyaddiction, and in particular on identifying the neuronal populations and molecular mechanisms involved in these behaviors. To do this, I am using an optogenetic model of operant self-administration.

When I am not in the lab, I like to take advantage of Sundays to have brunch and discover new places. So if you are looking for me, I will probably be sharing pancakes with friends, or looking for the best place to enjoy a latte!


Chiara Ebner

PhD candidate


I am currently a first year PhD candidate at the University of Strasbourg. It is during my undergrad and master's degrees that I got interested in Neuroscience, which led me to pursued into investigating mitochondrial trafficking beforejoininh the Addictions team at CRBS. The main focus of my project is to understand how a specific neuronal population located in the habenula, known for its role in influencing our sense of pleasure or happiness, contributes to our hedonic balance. This particular group of neurons expresses a receptor called the mu opioid receptor. The aim of my research is to understand the function and interactions of these distinctive brain cells within the habenula.
When I am not in the lab, I like to do yoga, cook or go out for a cappuccino while strolling around and exploring the city!


Internship students

We currently welcome three students :

  • Solène Poivey : 2nd year student, Master de Neurophysiologie appliquée, Nancy, France
  • Sarah KADA : 1st year student, Joint Master in Neuroscience, Strasbourg
  • Florian PONS : 1st year student, Joint Master in Neuroscience, Strasbourg