Benjamin Saunders, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Benjamin Saunders

Contact Info

Office Phone +1 612-626-5198

Office Address:
2001 6th St SE
3-224 MTRF
Minneapolis, MN 55455-3007

Mailing Address:
Medical Discovery Team-Addiction
3rd Floor LRB/MTRF
2873M (Campus Delivery Code)
2001 6th St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-3007

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience

PhD in Psychology/Biopsychology, 2012

MS, University of Michigan

BS in Biology/Psychology, West Virginia University, 2007



Neural circuits of motivation


Research Summary/Interests

Environmental cues, through their association with rewards, can acquire powerful control over motivation to spur and invigorate behavior. This process, while fundamental to survive, can go awry, leading to aberrant motivation that can underlie a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as addiction. The central goals of the Saunders Laboratory are to understand 1) how the brain generates and controls motivation during reward seeking, 2) how these processes are altered in disease states, and 3) why some individuals, but not others, develop motivational diseases. We utilize in a variety of techniques for mapping, controlling, and measuring the activity of neural circuits, including optogenetics, pharmacology, calcium imaging, and immunohistochemistry and microscopy, in rodents. These methods are integrated with detailed assessment of behavior in conditioning paradigms of natural (i.e., food) reward and drug seeking, to identify how brain circuits represent and control different components of motivation.


Collins AL, Wolff AR, Saunders BT. Heterogeneous motivational circuit functions in addiction. In preparation

Saunders BT & Janak PH. Cues invigorate reinforcement mediated by dopamine neurons. In preparation

Saunders BT, Richard JM, Margolis EB, & Janak PH. (2018). Dopamine neurons create Pavlovian conditioned stimuli with circuit-defined motivational properties. Nature Neuroscience, 21(8):1072-1083

Saunders BT, Richard JM, & Janak PH. (2015). Contemporary approaches to neural circuit manipulation and mapping: focus on reward and addiction. Proc Roy Soc Phil Trans B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0210

Saunders BT, Yager LM, & Robinson TE. (2013). Cue-evoked cocaine “craving”: role of dopamine in the accumbens core. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 13989-14000.

Saunders BT & Robinson TE. (2012). The role of dopamine in the accumbens core in the performance of Pavlovian-conditioned responses. European Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 2521-2532

Saunders BT & Robinson TE. (2011). Individual variation in the motivational properties of cocaine. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36, 1668-1676.PMCID: PMC3138662

Saunders BT & Robinson TE. (2010). A cocaine cue acts as an incentive stimulus in some but not others: Implications for addiction. Biological Psychiatry, 67, 730-736.

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