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James Daunais, PhD

James Daunais, PhD, researches the neurobiological consequences of abused substances in nonhuman primates through multi-modal noninvasive imaging approaches. He is interested in partnerships that explore the pharmacological effects of alcohol and therapeutics in neuroimaging studies.

About James Daunais

James Daunais, PhD, earned a doctorate in anatomy and cell biology at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Working in a neuroanatomy lab during his graduate studies, he became interested in addiction research, studying a rodent model of cocaine abuse. During his postdoctoral training at Wake Forest School of Medicine, he explored the effects of cocaine self-administration on the opioid system in a nonhuman primate model. In 1995, Daunais joined the School of Medicine’s department of physiology and pharmacology to focus his efforts on the nonhuman primate brain and substance abuse disorders.

Using multi-modal imaging approaches (functional and structural MRI and magnetoencephalography [MEG]), Daunais explores how nonhuman primate brain structure and function change as a result of initial exposure to abused substances, including alcohol and prescription opioids. His research tracks changes in brain function and structure as animals transition from the naïve state into early exposure progressing to chronic abuse. Through an alcohol self-administration paradigm with nonhuman primates at Wake Forest Baptist, he examines neural activity alterations, including changes in gray and white matter structure, cerebral blood flow and brain metabolites, resting state brain function and functional connectivity early in the induction phase and after chronic exposure.

Daunais’ team is among the first research group to apply magnetoencephalography (MEG) in nonhuman primates. Using variations in resting state brain activity between drinkers and nondrinkers, he predicts consumption patterns and the consequences of chronic ethanol abuse, with the goal of developing an imaging marker of risk liability of alcohol abuse. He is also involved in studies that use MRI to examine the effects of fractionated whole brain irradiation on cognitive behavior and function.

As co-principal investigator of the Monkey Alcohol Tissue Research Resource (MATRR), a comprehensive National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism-funded tissue bank at Wake Forest Baptist, Daunais supplies central nervous system and peripheral tissue samples and associative bioinformatics from nonhuman primate models of ethanol self-administration to the alcohol research community. More than 150 members across the United States and Europe currently use this resource in translational research studies.

Daunais has widespread capability to apply expertise in nonhuman primate imaging and neuroanatomy to studies involving the effects of therapeutic development, pharmacologic treatment and behavioral intervention on brain activity. He has a specific interest in collaborations that use imaging as a fingerprint to design personalized medical interventions for substance abuse disorders.


James Daunais, PhD, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at the Center for Biomolecular Imaging, the Center for Research on Substance Use and Addiction and the Translational Science Institute at Wake Forest School of Medicine, specializes in:

  • Noninvasive imaging
  • Nonhuman primates
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG)