Donita Robinson, Ph.D.

Associate ProfessorDonita Robinson, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry
Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies

Office | 5007A Thurston-Bowles Bldg, CB#7178
Email | dlr@unc.edu
Lab Website | Behavioral and Pharmacological Neurodynamics Lab

 

Research Interests

The brain is adept at identifying and obtaining rewards such as food, sex and alcohol. We study neural activity in dorsal and ventral striatum of the rat, part of the basal ganglia motor pathway, that are crucial to motivated behavior. The primary behavior studied in the lab is alcohol drinking: typically, we train rats to press a lever for an alcohol reward in short, daily sessions. Once trained, we investigate several aspects of the behavior: subsecond dopamine release, neuronal firing patterns, pharmacological manipulation and behavioral challenge.

The primary projection neurons of the striatum (medium spiny neurons) encode in their firing rates many aspects of operant responding, including anticipation prior to the session, presentation of cues associated with the reward, the lever press, and the delivery of the reward. Similarly, fast dopamine release events (called dopamine transients) occur in the striatum at similar events. Our research investigates several questions related to this neural activity: Is information about alcohol seeking and alcohol reward processed differently from other rewards in the striatum? Is “habitual” alcohol seeking processed differently from “goal-directed” alcohol seeking? How do drugs used to treat alcoholism affect neural activity in the striatum? The practical goal of this research is to indentify brain functions and circuitry that might be therapeutically targeted to treat people with alcohol use disorders.

Other projects in the lab include dopamine measurements in rat models of adolescence, social interaction, stress and binge eating.

Recent Publications

    Click here for a full list of publications from PubMed
     

    Sex and Adolescent Ethanol Exposure Influence Pavlovian Conditioned Approach.  Madayag AC, Stringfield SJ, Reissner KJ, Boettiger CA, Robinson DLAlcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Feb 14. doi: 10.1111/acer.13354. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:28196273

    Orbitofrontal participation in sign- and goal-tracking conditioned responses: Effects of nicotine.  Stringfield SJ, Palmatier MI, Boettiger CA, Robinson DLNeuropharmacology. 2016 Dec 22;116:208-223. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2016.12.020. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:28012948

     Adolescent Alcohol Exposure Persistently Impacts Adult Neurobiology and Behavior.  Crews FT, Vetreno RP, Broadwater MA, Robinson DLPharmacol Rev. 2016 Oct;68(4):1074-1109. Review. PMID:27677720

    Sex and the Lab: An Alcohol-Focused Commentary on the NIH Initiative to Balance Sex in Cell and Animal Studies.  Guizzetti M, Davies DL, Egli M, Finn DA, Molina P, Regunathan S, Robinson DL, Sohrabji F. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Jun;40(6):1182-91. doi: 10.1111/acer.13072. Review. PMID:27154003

    Acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion of phasic dopamine in the rat brain.  Shnitko TA, Taylor SC, Stringfield SJ, Zandy SL, Cofresí RU, Doherty JM, Lynch WB, Boettiger CA, Gonzales RA, Robinson DLPsychopharmacology (Berl). 2016 Jun;233(11):2045-54. doi: 10.1007/s00213-016-4259-0. PMID:26944052