Faculty Profile

Dr. Saleem M. Nicola, Ph.D.

Saleem M. Nicola, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience

Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Areas of Research: Neural basis of reward-seeking behavior, decision-making and drug addiction

Professional Interests

My lab focuses on understanding the neural circuits underlying reward-seeking and addictive behaviors. We use a systems-level approach that utilizes behavioral, pharmacological, electrophysiological, optogenetics and in vivo calcium imaging techniques in awake, freely moving animals. Our goal is to identify the circuit mechanisms by which the brain generates adaptive and addictive behaviors.

Approach is one such behavior. Animals and humans tend to approach objects that are associated with reward (and avoid objects associated with aversive consequences). We take this simple behavior for granted, but it is not clear how the brain learns to associate objects with reward, and how the brain implements an approach response. Much evidence indicates that the nucleus accumbens is a critical structure in both learning and engaging approach responses. We study how accumbens neurons integrate inputs, including dopamine projections from the ventral tegmental area and glutamatergic projections from the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, to learn and engage cued approach responses.

Selected Publications

Vega-Villar M, Horvitz JC and Nicola SM NMDA receptor-dependent plasticity in the nucleus accumbens connects reward-predictive cues to approach responses. Nature Comm., in press.

Caref K and Nicola SM (2018) Endogenous opioids in the nucleus accumbens promote approach to high-fat food in the absence of caloric need. eLife, 7:e34955.

Du Hoffmann J and Nicola SM (2014) Dopamine invigorates reward seeking by promoting cue-evoked excitation in the nucleus accumbens. J. Neurosci. 34:14349-14364. (Editor’s Featured Article)

Morrison SE and Nicola SM (2014) Neurons in the nucleus accumbens promote selection bias for nearer objects. J. Neurosci. 34:4147-14162.

McGinty VB, Lardeux S, Taha SA, Kim JJ and Nicola SM (2013) Invigoration of reward-seeking by cue and proximity encoding in the nucleus accumbens. Neuron 78:910-922.

Nicola SM (2010) The flexible approach hypothesis: Unification of effort and cue responding hypotheses for the role of nucleus accumbens dopamine in the activation of reward-seeking behavior. J. Neurosci. 30:16585-16600.

Ambroggi F, Ishikawa A, Fields HL and Nicola SM (2008) Incentive cue encoding in the nucleus accumbens depends on basolateral amygdala inputs. Neuron 59:648-661.

Ishikawa A, Ambroggi F, Nicola SM and Fields HL (2008) Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex contribution to behavioral and nucleus accumbens neuronal responses to incentive cues. J. Neurosci. 28:5088-5098.

Yun IA, Wakabayashi KT, Fields HL and Nicola SM (2004) The ventral tegmental area is required for the behavioral and nucleus accumbens neuronal firing responses to incentive cues. J. Neurosci. 24:2923-2933.

Nicola SM, Yun IA, Wakabayashi KT and Fields HL (2004) Cue-evoked firing of nucleus accumbens neurons encodes motivational significance during a discriminative stimulus task. J. Neurophsyiol. 91:1840-1865.

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Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus
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Forchheimer Building, Room 111
Bronx, NY 10461

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Research Information