An interdisciplinary team to unravel circuit function

Garret Stuber, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Garret received his BS degree from University of Washington in 2000 and his Ph.D. in Neurobiology from UNC Chapel Hill in 2005 where he worked with Regina Carelli and Mark Wightman.  He completed his postdoctoral work with Antonello Bonci at UCSF where he learned slice electrophysiology and established optogenetic approaches to study neural circuit function.  

Garret started the lab in 2010 in the Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Center at UNC.  He has co-authored over 50 manuscripts on the neurocircuitry underlying motivated behavior.  While not in the lab Garret spends time with his family and enjoys cycling and traveling.  

Jenna McHenry, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

The neural circuitry that mediates reward processing is dysfunctional in neuropsychiatric illnesses. Sex differences are evident in affective disorders and prevalent during times of hormonal flux and the postpartum period. In the Stuber lab, I am investigating the functional connectivity of mPOA circuits that regulate hormone-mediated reward processing and innate sex-specific motivated behavior to gain mechanistic insight neural mechanisms that may reinforce natural rewards and regulate motivational states in females.

Shanna Resendez, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Our social world exerts powerful influence on our both our physical and mental well-being.  This strong influence stems from the potential for social experiences to modulate the development and maintenance of neural circuits that regulate motivational states, emotional processing, and cognition.  Given the strong connection between mental health and positive social support systems, I am interested in understanding the neural mechanisms that underlie the development of the social brain and how the proper development and functioning of such circuits contributes to adaptive psychological processes.  Conversely, I am also interested in how adverse life experiences, both of a social and non-social nature, contribute to dysfunctions in brain network activity that ultimately results in psychopathological disease states.  


Hiroshi Nomura, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

I'm interested in a cell assembly within a brain region, its intra- and inter-region connectivity and its role for behavior. I previsouly studied memory-associated circuits through analysis of immediate early genes, patch-clamp recordings and pharmacology in the lab of Drs. Matsuki and Ikegaya at the University of Tokyo.

James Otis, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Expression of emotional memories can drive maladaptive behaviors, such as drug seeking in addiction and avoidance in fear disorders.  My research focuses on the neurobiological mechanisms of these memories, with emphasis on methods that lead to targeted memory inhibition or erasure.  As a graduate student in Dr. Devin Mueller’s lab, I studied memory at a cellular level and found that cocaine-induced neuroplasticity and cocaine-associated memories are susceptible to erasure during memory retrieval.  How this memory-related neuroplasticity functions within a neural circuit to drive drug seeking, however, remains unclear.  Thus, my research plan in the Stuber lab is to study the neural circuits underlying emotional memories.  To do this, I will use innovative research strategies that allow measurement and control of neuronal activity within genetically-defined neural circuits.

Vijay Namboodiri, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Vijay got his PhD in the lab of Marshall Hussain Shuler at Johns Hopkins University.  In the lab, he studied how humans and animals process time and include it in their decisions. His work involved in-vivo single unit electrophysiological recording and optogenetics in awake, behaving rats in a timing task that he developed. He showed that neurons in the primary visual cortex can encode an interval and that modifying this representation is sufficient to perturb behavior. He also developed theoretical models of how we perceive time and how it affects the decisions that we make, along with developing some human psychophysics tasks to address these questions experimentally in humans. In the Stuber lab, he is interested in how these computations are performed in the brain by studying the circuitry and connections of ventral tegemental area, along with its encoding of behavioral decisions.

Mark Rossi, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

I am interested in understanding how the brain orchestrates motivated behaviors. As a graduate student of Dr. Henry Yin at Duke University, I used in vivo electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic manipulations to study how the basal ganglia control appetitive and consummatory behaviors in mice.  In the Stuber lab, I plan to study the lateral hypothalamus and related circuitry to identify and understand specific neural circuits that contribute to feeding behavior. 

Jose Rodríguez-Romaguera, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

An organism’s survival depends on the decisions it makes to seek reward and avoid aversive stimuli.  Many times these two behaviors compete with each other.  For example, avoidance is a normal and adaptive response; however, excessive motivation to avoid will decrease an animals’ decision to seek reward.  On the other hand, excessive motivation to seek reward will decrease an animal’s decision to avoid aversive stimuli.  My research focus is to understand how excessive motivational states affect decision making.  I am also interested in the development of novel treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders.  During my graduate training I studied the cortical-amygdala-striatal circuitry that allows for the extinction of conditioned fear and avoidance with Dr. Gregory Quirk at the University of Puerto Rico.  In particular, I studied how deep brain stimulation of the ventral striatum enhances extinction of fear and avoidance.

Heather Decot, Neurobiology Graduate Student

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA with a B.S. in Biology in May 2008.  After graduation, I worked as a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Clinical Brain Disorders Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH in Bethesda, MD working in the lab of Dr. José A. Apud, Clinical Director of the Schizophrenia Research Program.  I joined the Stuber lab in 2012 and have been working on a project in collaboration with the lab of Dr. Yen-Yu Ian Shih that is coupling optogenetic stimulation with fMRI in an in vivo rat model to selectively activate dopamine (DA) neuron cell bodies in the ventral tegmental area. Through these experiments, I hope to provide mechanistic insight into how DA neuromodulation affects large-scale brain network function and how it may relate to the fundamental neural circuit mechanisms underlying addiction.  


Marcus Basiri, MD/Ph.D. Student


I graduated from Boston College with a B.S. in Biochemistry in 2010. During my time as an undergraduate and continuing afterwards, I was a member of the laboratory of Prof. Tomer Avidor-Reiss in the Dept. of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School (2008-2012) and the University of Toledo (2012-2013), where I used Drosophila spermatogenesis as a model to study a unique ciliary gatekeeping mechanism associated with human disease. Following this, I entered the UNC MD-PhD program and completed my first two years of medical school. In 2015, I transitioned to the Neurobiology Curriculum and joined the lab of Prof. Garret Stuber in the Dept. of Psychiatry and UNC Neuroscience Center.

In the Stuber lab, my work will be primarily involved in the hypothalamus, a major neurosecretory control center whose ancient and diverse neuronal populations integrate essential physiological cues with behavior and experience. In this context, I hope to explore questions regarding neuronal identity by developing high-throughput molecular strategies to define distinct hypothalamic populations and dissect their circuit-level contributions to innate, conserved neurobiological processes.

Randall Ung, MD/Ph.D. Student

Randall was first in the lab as a technician, rotation student, and now MD/PhD student.  He is an excellent programer and tinkerer, and is currently learning how to do 2-photon imaging to study neural circuit function.

Oksana Kosyk, Stuber Lab Manager

Oksana is the Stuber Lab Manager.  She is the glue that keeps us together.  Oksana is in charge of overseeing the day to day functions of the lab, as well as assisting with experiments.  She is an outstanding person to work with, and she knows where to find the best strawberries in town. 

Louisa Eckman, Research Technician


Louisa graduated with a BS in Biology from Haverford College in 2015, where she conducted her senior thesis research on virulence factors of vaccinia, the prototypical poxvirus. She also spent time in the Golemis lab at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where she investigated the efficacy of various drugs for the treatment of polycystic kidney disease. Louisa plans to continue her studies in medicine.

Noah Miller, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I am an Undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill dual-majoring in Psychology (B.S.) and Biology (B.S.), with a minor in Neuroscience.  After Undergrad, I want to go on to a Graduate program in hopes of pursuing a research career within the field of Neuroscience. My interests include the cognitive processes of learning, plasticity, and memory, but the Stuber Lab has shown me that there is a lot of interesting potential with circuit-linked behavior.

Within the Stuber Lab, I work under Jenna McHenry, studying sex-linked motivational behavior in female mice.

Rakan Al-Sultani, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I am a Junior majoring in Biology (B.S.) and minoring in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the Stuber lab, I intend to learn the fundamentals of Neuroscience research, study the basics of Drosophila genetics and neural circuitry, and assist in general lab maintenance. Additionally, I hope to explore the implications Neuroscience research has on the medical field. I plan on applying to medical school in the future.      

Elisa Voets, Neuroscience & Cognition Graduate Student, University of Utrecht

Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters of the brain and plays a critical role in the execution of different types of behavior, including several cognitive functions, locomotor activity and reward processing. My interest in the dopamine network started when I was an undergraduate student. I wrote my thesis on dopamine signaling in the frontostriatal network in offspring of parents with schizophrenia. During my first year as a graduate student I worked in the lab of Prof. Dr. Roger Adan at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.  Here, I modulated the activity of ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons using DREADDs and studied how this influenced impulsivity and attention.  Currently, I am a second year graduate student conducting a six month internship in the Stuber lab where I will investigate the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to VTA circuit. I will identify how the OFC to VTA neurons encode cue-reward information and contribute to cue-induced motivated behavior using techniques that are well established in the Stuber lab including in vivo calcium imaging and optogenetics.

Recent Lab Alumni

Dennis Sparta, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine

Josh Jennings, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow, Deisseroth Lab, Stanford University

Alice Stamatakis, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Fellow, Inscopix

Ruud van Zessen - Ph.D Student, University of Utrecht