Benjamin Saunders, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience

E-MAILbts@umn.edu

Research Interests:

Environmental cues, through their association with rewards, can acquire powerful control over motivation to spur and invigorate behavior. This process, while fundamental to survive, can go awry, leading to aberrant motivation that can underlie a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as addiction. The central goals of the Saunders Laboratory are to understand 1) how the brain generates and controls motivation during reward seeking, 2) how these processes are altered in disease states, and 3) why some individuals, but not others, develop motivational diseases. We utilize in a variety of techniques for mapping, controlling, and measuring the activity of neural circuits, including optogenetics, pharmacology, calcium imaging, and immunohistochemistry and microscopy, in rodents. These methods are integrated with detailed assessment of behavior in conditioning paradigms of natural (i.e., food) reward and drug seeking, to identify how brain circuits represent and control different components of motivation. 

Lab Website: saunderslab.com


Selected Publications:

  • Saunders BT, Richard JM, Margolis EB, Janak PH. Dopamine neurons create Pavlovian conditioned stimuli with circuit-defined motivational properties. Nat Neurosci. 2018;21:1072-1083.
  • Saunders BT, Richard JM, Janak PH. Contemporary approaches to neural circuit manipulation and mapping: focus on reward and addiction. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015;370:20140210.
  • Saunders BT, Janak PH. Nucleus accumbens plasticity underlies multifaceted behavioral changes associated with addiction. Biol Psychiatry. 2014;75(2):92-93.
  • Saunders BT, Yager LM, Robinson TE. Cue-evoked cocaine “craving”: role of dopamine in the accumbens core. J Neurosci. 2013; 33:13989-14000.
  • Saunders BT, Robinson TE. The role of dopamine in the accumbens core in the performance of Pavlovian-conditioned responses. Eur J Neurosci. 2012;36:2521-2532.
  • Saunders BT, Robinson TE. Individual variation in the motivational properties of cocaine. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011;36:1668-1676.
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