Brain function and behavior

Brain function and behavior

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

Elizabeth west, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist

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. 

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.”

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