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Alexxai V. Kravitz, Ph.D.

Professional Experience

  • Postdoc, Gladstone Institutes of Neurological Disease, 2009-2013
  • Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2009
  • B.A., Wesleyan University, 2001

Research Goal

The goal of our research is to understand how different diets can change the function of basal ganglia circuits and how these changes contribute to obesity.

Current Research

I am 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 drives animals toward the selection of specific behavioral outcomes. Learning can bias this selection process toward specific behavior by altering synapses within and outside the basal ganglia. In extreme cases, these synaptic alterations can produce pathological behavioral selection, as in obesity or addiction. 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.

Applying Our Research

The circuits we are studying may represent therapeutic targets that can help people change their feeding behavior and ultimately reduce obesity. Additionally, basic science can help the public learn about the brain changes associated with obesity and understand why it is so difficult for obese individuals to change their behavior.

Need for Further Study

Despite ongoing research, it remains unclear how diets high in fat and calories affect reward circuitry in the brain and how to reverse such changes to combat obesity.

Select Publications

Basal Ganglia Dysfunction Contributes to Physical Inactivity in Obesity.
Friend DM, Devarakonda K, O'Neal TJ, Skirzewski M, Papazoglou I, Kaplan AR, Liow JS, Guo J, Rane SG, Rubinstein M, Alvarez VA, Hall KD, Kravitz AV.
Cell Metab (2017 Feb 7) 25:312-321. Abstract/Full Text
Striatal mechanisms underlying movement, reinforcement, and punishment.
Kravitz AV, Kreitzer AC.
Physiology (Bethesda) (2012 Jun) 27:167-77. Abstract/Full Text
View More Publications

Research in Plain Language

The prevalence of obesity has increased rapidly over the past 30 years, and obesity-related illnesses are now a leading cause of death in the United States. This growth is due to multiple reasons, but increases in food intake are a large contributor. Put simply, Americans consume about 25 percent more calories than we did 30 years ago. Although the solution to this problem appears simple—eat less—more and more people are finding this impossible to do. Why is it so difficult for us to eat less? What has changed over the past 30 years to make it even more difficult?

The main goal of our research is to understand how diet affects reward and feeding circuitry in the brain. The lab investigates the hypothesis that certain diets can alter and impair neural circuits that regulate reward processing and food consumption, similar to how drugs of abuse impair these circuits in addicts.

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