Office Phone: (608) 263-4019
Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding the neural substrates underlying motivation and reward, with a particular emphasis on feeding behavior. Why do we eat palatable foods in situations in which we don't 'need' (in a homeostatic sense) the extra calories? Are there distinct neural circuits for pleasure-driven feeding vs. homeostatic eating? Is there such a thing as 'addiction' to palatable foods?
My lab addresses these questions using a combination of behavioral, anatomical, and molecular techniques. Primarily, we analyze the microstructure of hunger-driven and palatable feeding after microinjections of neurochemicals into discrete brain sites. We often couple region-specific brain microinjections and behaviortal testing with postmortem analysis of neurotransmitter genes or neural activity markers to elucidate circuits involved in reward-related behaviors. Currently, the two main research areas in my lab are (1) analysis of how the cortex controls downstream circuits important for energy homeostasis, and (2) examination of the role of endogenous opioids (heroin-like brain chemicals) in modulating the influence of palatability and stress on binge eating of high-fat foods.