Associate Professor of Psychiatry; Research Associate Professor in Michigan Neuroscience Institute; Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology
Please note that I cannot take students directly through the Biopsychology program, and that students can contact me directly if interested in joining my lab.
Additional Research Interests: Animal Studies (Behavior), Neuroanatomy.
My research is focused 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 specifically 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. We are currently using DREADD technology (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) to elucidate the neural circuits underlying individual differences in cue-driven behaviors. Using this technology, we can ask which circuits are critical for different forms of reward learning, including those that lead to maladaptive behaviors. We are particularly interested in the role of cortico-thalamo-striatal pathways in these processes, and the interplay between these circuits and dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens. In addition, we are interested in 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.
See www.flagellab.com for more information.
Flagel SB, Akil H, Robinson TE: Individual differences in the attribution of incentive salience to reward-related cues: implications for addiction. Neuropharmacology, 56(S1):139-48, June 2009.
Robinson TE, Flagel SB: Dissociating the predictive and incentive motivational properties of reward-related cues through the study of individual differences. Biological Psychiatry, 65(10):869-873, May 2009.
Flagel SB, Robinson TE, Clark JJ, Clinton SM, Watson SJ, Seeman P, Phillips PE, Akil H: An animal model of genetic vulnerability to behavioral disinhibition and responsiveness to reward-related cues: implications for addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(2): 388-400, Jan 2010.
Flagel SB*, Clark JJ*, Robinson TE, Mayo L, Czuj A, Willuhn I, Akers CA, Clinton SM, Phillips PEM†, Akil H†: A selective role for dopamine in stimulus-reward learning. Nature, 469(7328):53-7, Jan 2011. *shared first authorship
Flagel SB, Cameron CM, Pickup KN, Watson SJ, Akil H, Robinson TE: A food predictive cue must be attributed with incentive salience for it to induce c-fos mRNA expression in cortico-striatal-thalamic brain regions. Neuroscience, 196:80-96, Nov 2011.
Haight J and Flagel SB: A potential role for the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus in mediating individual variation in Pavlovian conditioned responses. Special Issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8(79):1-10, March 2014.
Haight J, Fraser KM, Akil H and Flagel SB: Lesions of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus differentially affect sign- and goal-tracking conditioned responses. European Journal of Neuroscience, 42(7):2478-88, Oct 2015.
Flagel SB, Chaudhury S, Waselus M, Kelly R, Sewani S, Clinton SM, Thompson RC, Watson SJ Jr and Akil H: Genetic background and epigenetic modifications in the core of the nucleus accumbens predict addiction-like behavior in a rat model. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 113(20):E2861-70, May 2016.
Haight JL, Fuller ZL, Fraser KM and Flagel SB: A food-predictive cue attributed with incentive salience engages subcortical afferents and efferents of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus. Neuroscience, 340:135-152, Jan 2017.
Field(s) of Study