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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Veronica Alvarez, Ph.D

Veronica Alvarez, Ph.D.

Section on Neurobiology of Compulsive Behaviors

Research Topics

Research in the Alvarez laboratory is focused on understanding the effects of drugs of abuse on synapses and neuronal connectivity with the purpose of revealing the cellular and circuit mechanisms that mediate reward-motivated behaviors and compulsive drug seeking. Given that only a portion of individuals who are exposed to substances of abuse develop substance use disorder, the team is particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms that create vulnerability to develop addictive behaviors. Their research applies multiple techniques ranging from approaches at the cellular and synaptic level to behavioral analysis and in vivo manipulations in wild-type and genetically-engineered mice.


Dr. Alvarez earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She moved to the US and trained with Dr. John Williams at the Vollum Institute, OHSU, studying the firing properties of locus coeruleus neurons and its modulation by opioids. She later trained as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard Medical School, where she studied mechanisms of functional and morphological plasticity at glutamatergic synapses using electrophysiology and two-photon imaging. In 2008, she was recruited as an Investigator and Acting Chief of the Section on Neuronal Structure in the Intramural Research Program of NIAAA. In 2017, she co-founded the Center on Compulsive Behaviors, a collaborative initiative spanning multiple Institutes within the NIH and for which she serves as Director. As of 2023, she joined the NIMH Intramural Research Program as the chief of the Section on Neurobiology of Compulsive Behaviors.

Selected Publications

  1. Burke DA, Alvarez VA. Serotonin receptors contribute to dopamine depression of lateral inhibition in the nucleus accumbens.(external link)  Cell Rep. 2022;39(6):110795.
  2. Al-Hasani R, Gowrishankar R, Schmitz GP, Pedersen CE, Marcus DJ, Shirley SE, Hobbs TE, Elerding AJ, Renaud SJ, Jing M, Li Y, Alvarez VA, Lemos JC, Bruchas MR. Ventral tegmental area GABAergic inhibition of cholinergic interneurons in the ventral nucleus accumbens shell promotes reward reinforcement.(external link)  Nat Neurosci. 2021;24(10):1414-1428.
  3. Adrover MF, Shin JH, Quiroz C, Ferré S, Lemos JC, Alvarez VA. Prefrontal Cortex-Driven Dopamine Signals in the Striatum Show Unique Spatial and Pharmacological Properties.(external link)  J Neurosci. 2020;40(39):7510-7522.
  4. Bocarsly ME, da Silva E Silva D, Kolb V, Luderman KD, Shashikiran S, Rubinstein M, Sibley DR, Dobbs LK, Alvarez VA. A Mechanism Linking Two Known Vulnerability Factors for Alcohol Abuse: Heightened Alcohol Stimulation and Low Striatal Dopamine D2 Receptors.(external link)  Cell Rep. 2019;29(5):1147-1163.e5.
  5. Dobbs LK, Kaplan AR, Bock R, Phamluong K, Shin JH, Bocarsly ME, Eberhart L, Ron D, Alvarez VA. D1 receptor hypersensitivity in mice with low striatal D2 receptors facilitates select cocaine behaviors.(external link)  Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(4):805-816.

NIHBC 35 – PNRC 1/1C-913

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