U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Eating and Addiction Section

Alexxai Kravitz, Chief

About the Section

Our lab is interested in the study of basal ganglia circuits and how their function changes in disease states such as obesity, addiction, and depression.  Under normal conditions, the basal ganglia contributes to the selection of adaptive behavioral outcomes.  In pathological conditions such as drug addiction and obesity, the basal ganglia can facilitate harmful behavioral selection.  Using behavioral testing, optogenetics, and in vivo electrophysiology and optical measurements, the lab characterizes changes in behavior following learning in a feeding context and attempts to understand the neural correlates and causes of these changes in behavior.

The two main projects in the lab are focused on understanding the role of striatal projection neurons in behavioral changes associated with obesity. These behavioral changes can include decreases in physical activity, increased reinforcement of food directed behavior, and the emergence of negative emotional states such as anxiety and depression.

The goal of this research is to understand how certain diets (such as a high fat diet) can change the function of basal ganglia neurons and contribute to behavioral changes that facilitate obesity.​

The circuits we are studying represent promising therapeutic targets that may help people change their behavior and better manage obesity.​