Marisela Morales, M.S., Ph.D. Principal Investigator - Principal Investigators - The Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

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Biomedical Research Center (BRC)
251 Bayview Blvd
Baltimore, MD 21224

Voice: (443) 740-2717

Fax : (443) 740-2817

Marisela Morales, M.S., Ph.D., Senior Investigator

Chief, Neuronal Networks Section on-site page link

Post-doctoral training - University of Colorado, Boulder, CO (advisor: Dr. Eva Fifková). The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA (advisor: Dr. Floyd Bloom).

Ph. D. - Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Universidad de Guanajuato, Institute of Experimental Biology (IIBE), Mexico.

M.S. - Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Universidad de Guanajuato, Institute of Experimental Biology (IIBE), Mexico.

B.S. - Biochemistry and Microbiology. Instituto Politecnico Nacional (IPN), School of Biological Sciences. Mexico.


We are investigating the molecules, cells and neuronal pathways central to the neurobiology of drug addiction. Towards this end, we apply anatomical, cell molecular, cell biological and electrophysiological experimental approaches. Our research focus on two issues: what is the brain circuitry through which addictive drugs have their habit-forming actions, and what are the neuroadaptations in this circuitry that accompany the transition from recreational to compulsive drug-taking?

Accumulating evidence indicate that the ventral tegmental area (VTA) plays a role in goal-directed behavior and in reward processing to natural rewards and to several drugs of abuse. Therefore, we are investigating the neuronal properties and synaptic connectivity of the VTA to gain a better understanding of the interactions of the VTA with other brain structures in the processing and integration of information underlying behaviors associated with the neurobiology of drugs of addiction. Two populations of VTA neurons, dopaminergic neurons and GABAergic neurons, have been extensively characterized. Unexpectedly our work has recently shown that glutamatergic neurons are also present in the VTA. We are currently exploring the neuronal connectivity of VTA glutamatergic neurons and their participation in animal behavior.

Clinical observations and results from animal models indicate that behaviors associated with intake of drugs of abuse are affected by stress. The neuronal pathways, neurons, and neurotransmitters that mediate interactions between stress and drugs of abuse are not well characterized. In this regard, work from our laboratory has provided evidence indicating synaptic connectivity between the reward and the stress systems at the level of the VTA.

Selected Publications:

1. Root DH, Wang HL, Liu B, Barker DJ, Mód L, Szocsics P, Silva AC, Maglóczky Z, Morales M. 2016. Glutamate neurons are intermixed with midbrain dopamine neurons in nonhuman primates and humans.Science Report 6:1-18.

2. Qi J, Zhang S, Wang HL, Barker DJ, Miranda-Barrientos J and Morales M. 2016. VTA glutamatergic inputs to nucleus accumbens drive aversion by acting on GABAergic interneurons. Nature Neuroscience, 19:725-733.

3. Zhang S, Qi J, Li X, Wang H,  Britt JP, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Bonci A, and Morales M.  2015. Dopaminergic and glutamatergic microdomains within a subset of mesoaccumbens axons. Nature Neuroscience. 18:386-392.

4. Wang HL, Qi J, Zhang S, Wang H and Morales M.  2015. Rewarding effects of optical stimulation of Ventral Tegmental Area glutamatergic neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience. 35:15948-15954.

5. Root DH, Hoffman AF, Good CH, Zhang S, Gigante E, Lupica CR, Morales M. 2015. Norepinephrine activates dopamine D4 receptors in the lateral habenula. The Journal of Neuroscience. 35:3460-9.

6. Root DH, Mejias-Aponte CA, Zhang S, Wang HL, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Morales M. 2014. Single rodent mesohabenular axons release glutamate and GABA. Nature Neuroscience. 17:1543-51.

7. Qi J, Zhang S, Wang HL, Wang H, de Jesus Aceves Buendia J, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Seal RP, Morales M. 2014. A glutamatergic reward input from the dorsal raphe to ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons. Nature Communications. 5:5390.

8. Root DH, Mejias-Aponte CA, Qi J, Morales M. 2014. Role of glutamatergic projections from ventral tegmental area to lateral habenula in aversive conditioning. Journal of Neuroscience. 34:13906-10.

9. Morales M and Root DH (2014). Glutamate neurons within the midbrain dopamine regions. Neuroscience. 282C:60-68.

10. Li X, Qi J, Yamaguchi T, Wang HL, Morales M. 2013.  Heterogeneous composition of dopamine neurons of the rat A10 region: molecular evidence for diverse signaling properties.  Brain Structure and Function. 218:1159-76.

About Dr. Morales's...

IRP Training Opportunities...

2009 Postbacs
Postdoc, Predoc, Postbac and Summer Student training opportunities available!

2009 Summer Students
Research & Training Program for Under-represented Populations

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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