I received Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and psychology from West Virginia University in 2007. I then completed a Ph.D in biopsychology at the University of Michigan, where I worked in the lab of Terry Robinson. As a graduate student, I explored how trait variation in responsivity to reward-paired stimuli relates to drug craving and relapse, using animal models (reviewed here). 

In 2013, I joined Patricia Janak's lab as a postdoctoral fellow, where I shifted to focus on investigating neural circuit-level control of reward seeking. In recent projects, I have employed optogenetics, fiber photometry, and anatomical methods (reviewed here) to explore functional heterogeneity among midbrain dopamine neuron subpopulations in Pavlovian cue conditioned motivational processes.

In other projects I am utilizing in vivo calcium imaging methods to investigate activity dynamics of midbrain circuits during cocaine-seeking behavior. My research is funded by a Pathway to Independence Award (K99) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award. Please see the Research page for details on current projects.

benjamin.saunders@jhu.edu


Research Interests

  • How are unconditioned and conditioned motivational states encoded and controlled?
  • How do environmental cues acquire motivational control of reward seeking?
  • What neural changes underlie shifts from adaptive to maladaptive motivational states that contribute to addiction and related diseases?
  • How are individual differences in reward-related behaviors reflected in neural circuit activity?

To address these and other questions, I integrate sophisticated behavioral methods with state-of-the-art neural circuit dissection tools