Brain function and behavior

Brain function and behavior

Elizabeth West studies the neurobiological underpinnings underlying motivation, learning and decision making.

Elizabeth West, Ph.D.


Areas of expertise:

Behavioral neuroscience, systems neuroscience, in vivo recording

More information

Neurodegenerative diseases, substance abuse and even a high-fat diet can alter the brain circuits underlying cognitive behavior. Elizabeth West, Ph.D., is most interested in restoring function to these damaged regions and pathways.

“If I can restore function in the circuit, I hope to restore the changes in working memory and cognitive flexibility,” explained West, an assistant professor of cell biology at Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine and the Rowan-Virtua School of Translational Biomedical Engineering & Sciences, both part of Virtua Health College of Medicine & Life Sciences

West uses a multipronged approach in her lab, employing techniques of chemogenetics and optogenetics. In vivo recordings allow her to look at individual neurons in real time while an animal subject is doing a behavioral task. These behavioral tasks focus on either working memory—the ability to hold information long enough to make a decision—or behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behaviors based on consequences. 

West’s lab balances several research projects. A grant from the National Institute on Aging  supports her research into behavioral flexibility and working memory in an Alzheimer's disease rat model. Through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, West is studying how a history of cocaine abuse changes neural function in a specific part of the brain. A 2021 Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavioral Research Foundation launched her exploration of how certain neurons in the frontal cortex respond differently to cues that predict natural rewards versus drug rewards.

Under a Whitehall Foundation grant, West studies how serotonin in the orbital frontal cortex influences behavioral flexibility. She serves as co-principal investigator on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to learn more about the influence of the chemical messenger vasopressin in the mediodorsal thalamus. 

“Everything I do has a strong behavioral component,” West said. “I'm most interested in the dysfunctional state, but understanding normal processing is necessary to understand changes in animal models of disease.”

Rowan University researchers are passionate about what they do. Find more at Meet Our Researchers.