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ROBERT WHEELER, PH.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Wheeler received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in neuroscience at the University of Scranton and Penn State University. There he studied the neural substrates of motivated behavior. He learned electrophysiological and electrochemical techniques in his postdoctoral training at the University of North Carolina.

At Marquette University, Dr. Wheeler applies these techniques to understand how the neural systems that regulate hedonic and emotional processing influence motivation. Understanding the neural underpinnings of these systems will define the forces that control motivated behavior and ultimately how behavioral disorders, such as obesity and substance abuse, can be treated. Dr. Wheeler teaches BIOL 8501: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, BISC 7120: Medical Pharmacology and BISC 7520: Dental Pharmacology.

We are working to understand how adverse experiences are encoded in the brain and how these events contribute to disease states, such as addiction and depression.  

 

Adverse experiences, like social and work-related stressors, are an unwanted but often unavoidable part of life. For some people these amount to occasional annoyances, but for others these experiences are debilitating. In fact, such experiences can cause or exacerbate a variety of mental illnesses in susceptible individuals. Sadly, this knowledge has not translated to better therapies, in part, because the way in which adverse experiences affect the brain is poorly understood. Using animal models and a variety of brain activity measures, research in our lab has shown that adverse experiences are encoded by the same brain circuits that are well known for processing pleasurable events. These brain circuits typically allow animals to learn from positive experiences and respond appropriately in the future. We have found that negative experiences are encoded in these brain areas in a different, and sometimes opposite, manner. Currently, we are testing the hypothesis that these encoding patterns promote low mood and motivational states, as well as unhealthy behaviors. Our lab is working to better understand the brain circuits that encode adverse experiences with the goal of translating that knowledge to better treatments for mental illness. 

 

 

Lab personnel:

  • Dan Wheeler, Ph.D. – Research Assistant Professor 

  • Elaine Grafelman – Graduate Student 

  • Lisa Vlach – Technician 

 

Projects: 

  • Aversive stimuli can decrease dopamine signaling in the striatum while increasing dopamine signaling the cortex. What factors regulate this process? 

  • How do aversion-induced changes in dopamine signaling and cortical/striatal activity patterns modulate drug-seeking behavior?