Many people experiment with potentially addictive drugs, but not all become addicted. What is “it” that causes the approximately 15% of people that try illicit drugs to become addicted? What protects the other 85% from becoming addicted? These are the questions that keep us awake at night and keep us busy during the day.

About the Flagel Lab

We are a behavioral neuroscience lab located in the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan. Our lab focuses on understanding the genetic, environmental and neurobiological factors that contribute to individual differences in reward learning and susceptibility to mental illness, including addiction. We are interested in the psychological mechanisms that underlie and influence appetitive Pavlovian learning and the neural circuitry involved in these processes.

We use a combined approach of behavioral, pharmacological, molecular and chemogenetic tools in order to better understand the biological bases of motivated behavior. Our research to-date has primarily focused on the role of dopamine in stimulus-reward learning; and more recently, we have begun to investigate the role of cortico-thalamo-striatal pathways in these processes. In addition, we continue to study the impact of stressful events and how hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis physiology might contribute to individual differences in emotionality and response to the environment.

Our ultimate goal is to uncover the neurobiological mechanisms that that drive maladaptive behavior in hopes of identifying novel pharmacological targets for the treatment of addiction and other mental illnesses.