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Elizabeth West, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Science Center 210


Georgetown University, Washington, DC
Ph.D. (Neuroscience) 2012



Research Interests

Animals must learn environmental cues that predict particular outcomes (positive, neutral or negative) to decide upon the most advantageous action. However, in a changing environment, a once-adaptive behavior can become maladaptive. Thus, optimal decision-making requires the ability to update predictions in real-time to redirect behavior. However, this “behavioral flexibility” is eroded in a range of neuropsychiatric disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs) and anxiety disorders. My research program seeks to: 1) identify the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie learning, decision making and cognitive flexibility, 2) elucidate how these neural circuits are altered following a history of drug exposure or chronic stress, and 3) restore function to these circuits with the aim of improving decision-making in disease states. We utilize in vivo recording techniques including electrophysiology and optical imaging (cellular Ca++ imaging and fiber photometry) to characterize neural circuits necessary for decision-making and flexibility in awake behaving rats. In addition, we employ optogenetic and pharmacological manipulations to determine the neural circuits that mediate learning, decision-making, and flexibility. Finally, we explore the use of potential treatment strategies, such as non-invasive brain stimulation, to determine their efficacy in restoring decision-making deficits in relevant models of neuropsychiatric diseases.


  1. Haake RM, West EA, Wang X, Carelli RM. Drug-induced dysphoria is enhanced following prolonged cocaine abstinence and dynamically tracked by nucleus accumbens neurons. Addict Biol. Jul;24(4):631-640,
  2. Hurley SW, West EA, Carelli RM. Opposing roles of rapid dopamine signaling across the rostral-caudal axis of the nucleus accumbens shell in drug-induced negative affect. Biological Psychiatry. 82 (11): 839-846, 2017.
  3. West EA, Carelli RM. Nucleus accumbens core and shell differentially encode reward-associated cues after reward devaluation. Neurosci.  36(4):1128-39, 2016.  Featured article with commentary by Theresa Eden, Accumbens shell reflects reward devaluation.
  4. West EA, Saddoris MP, Kerfoot EC, Carelli RM. Prelimbic and Infralimbic cortical regions differentially encode cocaine-associated stimuli and cocaine-seeking before and following abstinence. Eur J Neurosci. 39(11):1891-902, 2014.
  5. West EA, Forcelli PA, McCue DL, Malkova L. Differential effects of serotonin-specific and excitotoxic lesions of OFC on conditioned reinforcer devaluation and extinction in rats. Behav Brain Res. 246(1): 10-14, 2013.
  6. West EA, Forcelli PA, Murnen AT, McCue DL, Gale K, Malkova L. Transient inactivation of basolateral amygdala during selective satiation disrupts reinforcer devaluation in rats. Behav Neurosci. 126(4):563-74, 2012.
  7. West EA, DesJardin JT, Gale K, Malkova L. Transient inactivation of orbitofrontal cortex disrupts reinforcer devaluation in macaques. J Neurosci. 31(42):15128-35, 2011.