Faculty & Research
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.
Center Line Articles and News
“Habits and Cues in Alcohol Drinking: Dynamic Striatal Activity”
Breaking the Habit: Robinson Lab Investigates Novel Mechanisms of Maladaptive Alcohol Drinking (Vol 20, No. 4, 2009)
Robinson Lab Moves into Bowles CAS (Vol 18, No. 2, 2007)
Research by UNC Scientist Reveals Alcohol-Specific Neural Substrate in the Brain’s “Reward Circuit" (Robinson) (Vol 16, No. 4, 2005)
Click here for a full list of publications from PubMed
Mesolimbic dopamine transients in motivated behaviors: focus on maternal behavior. Robinson DL, Zitzman DL, Williams SK. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:23.
Rapid Dopamine Release in Freely Moving Rats. Robinson DL, Wightman RM. In: Michael AC, Borland LM, editors. Electrochemical Methods for Neuroscience. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2007. Chapter 2.
Fast dopamine release events in the nucleus accumbens of early adolescent rats. Robinson DL, Zitzman DL, Smith KJ, Spear LP. Neuroscience. 2011 Mar 10;176:296-307.
Disparity between tonic and phasic ethanol-induced dopamine increases in the nucleus accumbens of rats. Robinson DL, Howard EC, McConnell S, Gonzales RA, Wightman RM. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 Jul;33(7):1187-96.
Distinct subsets of nucleus accumbens neurons encode operant responding for ethanol versus water. Robinson DL, Carelli RM. Eur J Neurosci. 2008 Nov;28(9):1887-94.
Monitoring rapid chemical communication in the brain. Robinson DL, Hermans A, Seipel AT, Wightman RM. Chem Rev. 2008 Jul;108(7):2554-84.
Acute ethanol decreases dopamine transporter velocity in rat striatum: in vivo and in vitro electrochemical measurements. Robinson DL, Volz TJ, Schenk JO, Wightman RM. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 May;29(5):746-55.
Nomifensine amplifies subsecond dopamine signals in the ventral striatum of freely-moving rats. Robinson DL, Wightman RM. J Neurochem. 2004 Aug;90(4):894-903.
Detecting subsecond dopamine release with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry in vivo. Robinson DL, Venton BJ, Heien ML, Wightman RM. Clin Chem. 2003 Oct;49(10):1763-73.
Real-time measurements of phasic changes in extracellular dopamine concentration in freely moving rats by fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. Phillips PE, Robinson DL, Stuber GD, Carelli RM, Wightman RM. Methods Mol Med. 2003;79:443-64.
Frequency of dopamine concentration transients increases in dorsal and ventral striatum of male rats during introduction of conspecifics. Robinson DL, Heien ML, Wightman RM. J Neurosci. 2002 Dec 1;22(23):10477-86.