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NINDSNIMHNICHDNIDCDNEINIDCRNIANIAAANIDANHGRI NCCIHNIDDKNIEHSCCB

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Senior Investigator

Marisela Morales, M.S., Ph.D.

Integrative Neuroscience Branch


Room 06A729
251 Bayview Blvd Suite 200
Baltimore MD 21224
Office: 443-740-2717
Lab: 443-740-2817

mmorales@intra.nida.nih.gov

Marisela Morales, M.S., Ph.D., Director, Core Facilities, Branch Chief, Integrative Neuroscience Branch, and Section Chief, Neuronal Networks Section, NIDA.


Post-doctoral training - University of Colorado, Boulder, CO (advisor: Dr. Eva Fifková). The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA (advisor: Dr. Floyd Bloom).


Ph. D. - Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Universidad de Guanajuato, Institute of Experimental Biology (IIBE), Mexico.


M.S. - Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Universidad de Guanajuato, Institute of Experimental Biology (IIBE), Mexico.


B.S. - Biochemistry and Microbiology. Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN), School of Biological Sciences. Mexico.




Dr. Morales’ lab is investigating the molecules, cells and neuronal pathways central to the neurobiology of drug addiction. Towards this end, the lab applies anatomical, cell molecular, cell biological and electrophysiological experimental approaches. The research focus on two issues: what is the brain circuitry through which addictive drugs have their habit-forming actions, and what are the neuroadaptations in this circuitry that accompany the transition from recreational to compulsive drug-taking?

Accumulating evidence indicate that the ventral tegmental area (VTA) plays a role in goal-directed behavior and in reward processing to natural rewards and to several drugs of abuse. Therefore, the lab is investigating the neuronal properties and synaptic connectivity of the VTA to gain a better understanding of the interactions of the VTA with other brain structures in the processing and integration of information underlying behaviors associated with the neurobiology of drugs of addiction. Two populations of VTA neurons, dopaminergic neurons and GABAergic neurons, have been extensively characterized. Unexpectedly the work has recently shown that glutamatergic neurons are also present in the VTA. The lab is currently exploring the neuronal connectivity of VTA glutamatergic neurons and their participation in animal behavior.

Clinical observations and results from animal models indicate that behaviors associated with intake of drugs of abuse are affected by stress. The neuronal pathways, neurons, and neurotransmitters that mediate interactions between stress and drugs of abuse are not well characterized. In this regard, work from the laboratory has provided evidence indicating synaptic connectivity between the reward and the stress systems at the level of the VTA

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  • 1) Root DH, Wang HL, Liu B, Barker DJ, Mód L, Szocsics P, Silva AC, Maglóczky Z, Morales M (2016)
  • Root DH, Wang HL, Liu B, Barker DJ, Mód L, Szocsics P, Silva AC, Maglóczky Z, Morales M
  • Sci Rep, 6, 30615
  • 2) Qi J, Zhang S, Wang HL, Barker DJ, Miranda-Barrientos J, Morales M (2016)
  • VTA glutamatergic inputs to nucleus accumbens drive aversion by acting on GABAergic interneurons
  • Nat Neurosci, 2016 May;19(5):725-33. doi: 10.1038/nn.4281, Epub 2016 Mar 28
  • 3) Root DH, Wang HL, Liu B, Barker DJ, Mód L, Szocsics P, Silva AC, Maglóczky Z, Morales M (2016)
  • Glutamate neurons are intermixed with midbrain dopamine neurons in nonhuman primates and humans
  • Sci Rep, 2016 Aug 1;6:30615, doi: 10.1038/srep30615
  • 4) Root DH, Hoffman AF, Good CH, Zhang S, Gigante E, Lupica CR, Morales M (2015)
  • Norepinephrine activates dopamine D4 receptors in the rat lateral habenula
  • J Neurosci, 2015 Feb 25;35(8):3460-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI, 4525-13.2015
  • 5) Wang HL, Qi J, Zhang S, Wang H, Morales M (2015)
  • Rewarding Effects of Optical Stimulation of Ventral Tegmental Area Glutamatergic Neurons
  • J Neurosci, 2015 Dec 2;35(48):15948-54. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI, 3428-15.2015
  • 6) Zhang S, Qi J, Li X, Wang HL, Britt JP, Hoffman AF, Bonci A, Lupica CR, Morales M (2015)
  • Dopaminergic and glutamatergic microdomains in a subset of rodent mesoaccumbens axons
  • Nat Neurosci, 2015 Mar;18(3):386-92. doi: 10.1038/nn.3945, Epub 2015 Feb 9
  • 7) Morales M, Root DH (2014)
  • Glutamate neurons within the midbrain dopamine regions
  • Neuroscience, . 2014 Dec 12;282:60-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscienc, 2014.05.032. Epub 2014 May 27. Review
  • 8) Root DH, Mejias-Aponte CA, Qi J, Morales M (2014)
  • Role of glutamatergic projections from ventral tegmental area to lateral habenula in aversive conditioning
  • J Neurosci, 2014 Oct 15;34(42):13906-10, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2029-14.2014
  • 9) Qi J, Zhang S, Wang HL, Wang H, de Jesus Aceves Buendia J, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Seal RP, Morales M (2014)
  • A glutamatergic reward input from the dorsal raphe to ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons
  • Nat Commun, 2014 Nov 12;5:5390, doi: 10.1038/ncomms6390
  • 10) Root DH, Mejias-Aponte CA, Zhang S, Wang HL, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Morales M (2014)
  • Single rodent mesohabenular axons release glutamate and GABA
  • Nat Neurosci, 2014 Nov;17(11):1543-51. doi: 10.1038/nn.3823, Epub 2014 Sep 21
  • 11) Li X, Qi J, Yamaguchi T, Wang HL, Morales M (2013)
  • Heterogeneous composition of dopamine neurons of the rat A10 region: molecular evidence for diverse signaling properties
  • Brain Struct Funct, 2013 Sep;218(5):1159-76. doi: 10.1007/s00429-012-0, Epub 2012 Aug 29
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