Steve Reilly

    Email Address:
    College: Liberal Arts and Sciences Department: Psychology
    Title: Professor
    Office: 1042B BSB M/C 285 Phone: 413-2625

    Research Interest:
    Our research concerns the neural mechanisms of learning, memory and motivation. More specifically, we are interested in determining the roles of central gustatory nuclei in taste-guided and taste-motivated phenomena with an emphasis on taste neophobia and conditioned taste aversions (CTAs) induced with poisons/toxins or drugs of abuse (Lin, Arthurs & Reilly, 2014; 2017). Our work suggests that forebrain nuclei are responsible for the detection of taste novelty and provide feedback to a brainstem structure (parabrachial nucleus) that governs the integration of gustatory and aversive viscerosensory information. With clinical relevance aforethought, we are particularly interested in determining whether CTA acquisition and consolidation are dependent upon protein synthesis and/or glutamate receptors in the parabrachial nucleus. We believe that understanding of the neural substrates of CTA learning will not only yield important insights into the neural integration of gustatory and visceral functions but may provide a foundation for the development of treatments and interventions that might ameliorate the unwanted, and oftentimes debilitating, nutritional side effects of invasive medical treatments such as chemo- and radiation therapy.
    Our recent work has opened several new directions for research and is the basis of a more comprehensive analysis of taste learning. Specifically, we have shown that taste neophobia involves a substantial reduction in palatability of the novel taste stimulus, and that palatability increases with repeated benign exposures until that taste is recognized as familiar and safe (i.e., food becomes more pleasurable as neophobia dissipates). To be effective, the CTA mechanism must be engaged sooner rather than later. That is, the earliest onset signs of a poison must trigger the mechanism. In the context of the ingestion of a new food, the neophobic reaction not only involves a downshift in palatability (thereby restricting intake of a potentially dangerous item) but also primes the feeding system such that a negative deviation of internal well-being or the onset of a novel body state will be sufficient to activate the CTA mechanism. The price of a CTA mechanism that is triggered by early onset signs is the occurrence of false positives. This is the price of survival in the world in which the CTA mechanism evolved, a world that did not include drugs of abuse. Although their negative properties may be entirely responsible for CTAs induced with drugs of abuse, it is possible that some early onset signs of their positive properties are, mistakenly, taken as evidence of poisoning and thereby contribute to the inevitable acquisition of the CTA. Thus, taste neophobia and CTA are exquisitely developed mechanisms that defend our feeding system. Research based on this analysis is expected to benefit understanding relevant to a number of clinical conditions including, for example, obesity and the disordered neophobic response (termed ARFIDs) evident in young populations that limits inclusion of nutritious foods into the developing diet.

    Minimum time commitment in hours per week:

    Qualifications of a Student:
    Junior/Senior standing; have taken Behavioral Neuroscience or comparable course; be interested in neuroscience, learning, and animal behavior. Exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Students will be working with immunohistology, and potentially running behavioral experiments involving rats.

    Brief Summary of what is expected from the student:
    Students are expected to commit a minimum of 2 semesters in the lab.

    Depending on your experience, you will trained on the various experimental procedures used in the lab, including behavioral testing and histological analyses. Our behavioral experiments are typically conducted in the mornings, 7 days per week.

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