We combine classic and state-of-the-art neuroscientific tools to identify the specific cells and pathways that encode and control motivated behaviors and related disorders.

A major focus of our research program is to identify how the brain's reward center, the ventral tegmental area (VTA), participates in reward, aversion, addiction, depression, and other neuropsychiatric illnesses. The VTA is a cellularly heterogeneous structure and we have recently discovered a unique type of VTA neuron that co-releases both glutamate and GABA, complimenting known VTA neurons that release solely glutamate, GABA, or dopamine. We aim to elucidate the unique circuits of each type of VTA neuron, identify the roles that each type of VTA neuron and their specific pathways play in health and disease, as well as reveal the neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie these roles.


Neuronal mechanisms of motivated behaviors
and related disorders

Single-unit recordings



CRISPr-Cas9 gene editing

Calcium and neurotransmitter imaging


Place conditioning

Network and molecular profiling:

Retrograde tract tracing

Viral anterograde tracing

In situ hybridization


Light & Electron microscopy

Our research has been generously supported by the University of Colorado, the Boettcher Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Brain and Behavior Foundation, and others