The neurobiology of feeding, addiction, and motivation.

 Dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area stained with anti-tyrosine hydroxylase antibody (blue). The orange neuron has been filled with neurobiotin during an electrophysiological recording.

Dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area stained with anti-tyrosine hydroxylase antibody (blue). The orange neuron has been filled with neurobiotin during an electrophysiological recording.

Our research is focused on understanding the neural processes that govern behaviour towards rewards – both adaptive rewards (e.g. food) and maladaptive rewards (e.g. drugs). In particular, how does our experience with such rewards shape our future responses towards them and how do other stimuli and cues that are associated with rewards become able to motivate behaviour. A number of diseases, particularly drug addiction and obesity, may involve dysfunction in processes such as these. The neurotransmitter dopamine, is critical for many of these behaviours and accordingly our research is based on understanding dopamine signalling. We use a number of techniques to investigate this including fibre photometry, electrophysiology, and voltammetry, which allow real-time measurements of neural activity and neurotransmitter release. Currently, our primary project concerns how nutritional value (e.g. caloric content or macronutrient content) affects learning and responding about different foods.

Our funding is primarily from BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), European Commission, and The Leverhulme Trust.