Postdoctoral Research Associate
Broadly, I seek to understand how reward is generated in the brain. To this end, my research uses optogenetic tools to characterize how particular brain regions, such as the nucleus accumbens (NAc), ventral pallidum (VP), and lateral hypothalamus (LH), modulate ‘liking’ (pleasure) and ‘wanting’ (motivation). Thus far, my research has revealed that optogenetic excitation at sites throughout the entirety of the VP amplifies ‘wanting’ behavior, while enhancements in ‘liking’ are only found in a relatively restricted region, known as a hedonic hotspot, located in the posterior VP. In a separate set of studies, I have demonstrated that direct inhibition of the medial shell of the NAc via optogenetic or pharmacogenetic tools is sufficient to produce appetitive (e.g. eating) and/or fearful (e.g. treading) motivation. As a whole, I hope that by characterizing the neural correlates of ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’, we may better understand how these systems become dysregulated in neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction, depression, and schizophrenia, which may, in turn, aid in the development of more efficacious treatments for these pathologies.
- Mapping ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ in the VP
- Characterizing the contributions of VP GABA neurons in ‘wanting’ behavior*
- Examining the role of the LH in ‘wanting’ behavior, with interest in LH→VP projection neurons
- Investigating the functional role of the medial NAc shell in appetitive and fearful motivation
- Exploring NAc-mediated release of motivated behaviors as a function of optogenetic inhibition*
*mentored undergraduate thesis projects