Date published: 12/17/2014

I study the neural basis of reward learning and addiction. My research interests span basic questions on the mechanisms of choices involving cost-benefit analyses to the development of novel preclinical models of addiction.

Recent work in my lab has directed me to consider the importance of reward history in addiction. Every individual has a unique reward history- an objective measure of the resources experienced in development until the present time. These can be enriching experiences that increase cognitive fitness and flexibility in the long-term, or aversive experiences that can leave one vulnerable to develop psychopathology. To make optimal choices, we must also integrate more subjective factors into our decision making that incorporate cost: How valuable is the reward? How much am I willing to work for it? In my lab we try to deconstruct these questions, design experiments to address them in a simplified system, and attempt to find brain markers for those factors.

I have a longstanding interest in learning that depends on the frontal cortex, amygdala, and striatum and the modulating roles of dopamine and serotonin on that learning. Until recently, my focus was in adulthood. Currently, however, I am also studying experiences in adolescence such as social play, aerobic exercise, exposure to prescription and illicit drugs, and their long-term impact on synaptic remodeling in corticolimbic areas, as well as the impact on learning. Additionally, a newer branch of research in my lab is aimed at understanding the role of central immune signaling and inflammation in reward learning and addiction.

I am a behavioral neuroscientist with training in systems neuroscience and behavioral pharmacology. My Ph.D. is from the George Washington University in partnership with the NIH. I joined the UCLA Psychology faculty in July of 2013 and have been enriched by an expansive breadth of research areas. Apart from my research, other aspects of my career that I find very rewarding are undergraduate mentoring, outreach through the Society for Neuroscience, and promoting the development of future neuroscientists from diverse backgrounds.