Research Program: We seek to understand the brain circuits underlying motivated behavior, and how these change in addiction and other psychiatric disorders.

Background: Brain circuits of “reward” are evolutionarily ancient, and likely function in a qualitatively similar way in humans and model organisms such as rodents.  Such homology should not be surprising considering the strong adaptive pressure on organisms to efficiently exploit environmental opportunities when they are available.

In order to attain a natural reward like food, water, or sex, animals must know what and where rewards are, and how to get them.  This is accomplished in part via the brain’s “reward circuitry,” aspects of which allow animals to recognize rewards when they are attained, learn about the circumstances in which they were attained, remember these circumstances when they are encountered in future, and generate appropriate motivated behavior at those times.

We investigate the neural circuits underlying these psychological processes, including learning, motivation, and pleasure.  We employ anatomical, pharmacological, and virus-based strategies to examine and control neuronal populations and circuits in rodents, with the aim of understanding how these circuits control behavior.