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Senior Investigator

Veronica Alvarez, Ph.D.

Laboratory on Neurobiology of Compulsive Behaviors

Building 5625 Room TN-41
5625 Fishers Lane
Bethesda MD 20892
Office: (301) 443-7695

Dr. Veronica Alvarez graduated with honors from the School of Natural Sciences and earned a Ph.D. degree in Neuroscience in 1997 from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She came to the U.S. to train as an electrophysiologist with Dr. John Williams at the Vollum Institute at OHSU and she studied the firing properties of locus coeruleus neurons and their modulation by opioids. Dr. Alvarez then continued her postdoctoral training with Dr. Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard Medical School, where she studied mechanisms of functional and morphological plasticity at glutamatergic synapses using electrophysiology and two-photon imaging from 2002 to 2007. In 2008, she was recruited as a Tenure-Track Investigator in the Intramural Research Program of NIAAA at NIH, where she established her research program and was granted tenure in 2015. She is currently a Senior Investigator and Laboratory Chief at NIAAA. Dr. Alvarez holds a secondary appointment at NIDA and her laboratory receives additional funding from NINDS. Dr. Alvarez received the NIH Honor Award in 2015 and the Outstanding Mentor Award in 2016. In 2017, she was awarded the NIH Innovation Award for the creation of the Center on Compulsive Behaviors at NIH.

Research in this Laboratory on Neurobiology of Compulsive Behaviors is aimed at uncovering the neuronal circuits and synaptic mechanisms that mediate reward motivated behaviors and compulsive behaviors. We utilize an integrative approach that includes electrophysiology, 2-photon laser scanning microscopy and fast-scanning cyclic voltammetry for dopamine detection together with behavioral testing and in vivo manipulation of circuit activity using optogenetic and chemogenetic tools. The goal of this research is to dissect the neuronal circuits involved in mediating and regulating motivated compulsive behaviors and reward. The focus is on motivated behaviors toward substance of abuse, such as cocaine and ethanol, but also behaviors towards natural rewards, such as food and water that drive consummatory behaviors.

Staff Image
  • Michael Authement, Ph.D.
    Post-Doctoral IRTA

  • Miriam Bocarsly, Ph.D.
    Post-Doctoral IRTA

  • Roland Bock, M.Sc

  • Carolyn Bowering
    Special Volunteer

  • Marilyn Bravo, B.Sc.
    Postbaccalaureate IRTA

  • Dennis Burke, B.Sc.
    Graduate Student

  • Daniel da Silva e Silva, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Kathy Dai, B.Sc.
    Postbaccalaureate IRTA

  • Lauren Dobbs, Ph.D.
    Post-Doctoral IRTA

  • Jung Hoon Shin, Ph.D.
    Staff Scientist

  • Aya Matsui, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Katie Teresi, B.A.
    Postbaccalaureate IRTA

  • 1) D.M. Friend, K. Devarakonda, T.J. O’Neal, M. Skirzewski, I. Papazoglou, A.R. Kaplan, J-S Liow, J. Guo,1 S.G. Rane, M. Rubinstein, V.A. Alvarez, K.D. Hall, A.V. Kravitz (2017)
  • Basal Ganglia Dysfunction Contributes to Physical Inactivity in Obesity
  • Cell Metabolism, -16, 30596-4
  • 2) M.A. Hutchison, X. Gu, M.F. Adrover, R. Lee, T. Hnasko, V.A. Alvarez, W. Lu (2017)
  • Genetic inhibition of neurotransmission reveals role of glutamatergic input to dopamine neurons in high effort behavior.
  • Molecular Psychiatry, doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.7
  • 3) S. Laguesse, N. Morisot, J.H. Shin, F. Liu, M.F. Adrover, S.A. Sakhai, M.F. Lopez, K. Phamluong, W.C. Griffin III, H.C. Becker, K.J. Bender, V.A. Alvarez, Dorit Ron (2017)
  • Prosapip1-dependent synaptic adaptations in the nucleus accumbens drive alcohol intake, seeking, and reward.
  • Neuron, 96(1), 145-159
  • 4) J.H. Shin, M.F. Adrover, V.A. Alvarez (2017)
  • Distinctive modulation of dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens shell mediated by dopamine and acetylcholine receptors.
  • Journal of Neuroscience in press
  • 5) L.K. Dobbs, A.R. Kaplan, J.C. Lemos, A. Matsui, M. Rubinstein, V.A. Alvarez (2016)
  • Dopamine regulation of lateral inhibition between striatal neurons gates the stimulant actions of cocaine
  • Neuron, 90(5), 1100-13
  • 6) J.C. Lemos, D.M. Friend, A.R. Kaplan, J.H. Shin, M. Rubinstein, A.V. Kravitz, V.A. Alvarez (2016)
  • Enhanced GABA transmission drives bradykinesia following loss of dopamine D2 receptor signaling
  • Neuron, 90(4), 824-38
  • 7) Holroyd KB, Adrover MF, Fuino RL, Bock R, Kaplan AR, Rubinstein M, Alvarez VA (2015)
  • Loss of feedback inhibition via D2 autoreceptors enhances acquisition of cocaine taking and reactivity to drug-paired cues
  • Neuropsychopharmacology, 40, 1495-509
  • 8) Shin JH, Adrover MF, Wess J and Alvarez VA (2015)
  • Muscarinic regulation of dopamine and glutamate transmission in the nucleus accumbens
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 112, 8124-9
  • 9) Wilcox MV, Cuzon-Carlson VC, Sherazee N, Sprow GM, Bock R, Thiele TE, Lovinger DM and Alvarez VA (2014)
  • Repeated binge-like ethanol drinking alters ethanol drinking patterns and depresses striatal GABAergic transmission
  • Neuropsychopharmacology, 39, 579-94
  • 10) Adrover MF, Shin JH and Alvarez VA (2014)
  • Glutamate and dopamine transmission from midbrain dopamine neurons share similar release properties but are differentially affected by cocaine
  • Journal of Neuroscience, 34, 3183-3192
  • 11) Bock R, Shin JH, Kaplan AR, Dobi A, Markey E, Kramer PF, Gremel CM, Christensen CH, Adrover MF and Alvarez VA (2013)
  • Strengthening of accumbal indirect pathway promotes resilience to compulsive cocaine use
  • Nature Neuroscience, 16, 632-8. Faculty of 1000 “Recommended” list
  • 12) Cuzon Carlson V, Seabold GK, Helms CM, Garg N, Odagiri M, Rau AR, Daunais J, Alvarez VA, Lovinger DM and Grant KA (2011)
  • Synaptic and morphological neuroadaptations in the putamen associated with long-term, relapsing alcohol drinking in primates
  • Neuropsychopharmacolog, 36, 2513-28
  • 13) A. Dobi, G.K. Seabold, C.H. Christensen, R. Bock and V.A. Alvarez (2011)
  • Cocaine-induced plasticity in the nucleus accumbens is cell specific and develops without withdrawal
  • J Neuroscience, 31, 1895-904
  • 14) E. Bello Gay, Y. Mateo, D.M. Gelman, D. Noain, J.H. Shin, C.M. Backman, M.J. Low, V.A. Alvarez, D.M. Lovinger and M. Rubinstein (2011)
  • Cocaine supersensitivity and enhanced motivation for reward in mice lacking dopamine D2 autoreceptors
  • Nature Neuroscience, 14, 1033-8
  • 15) Mathur BN, Capik NA, Alvarez VA, Lovinger DM (2011)
  • Serotonin induces long-term depression at corticostriatal synapses
  • J Neuroscience, 31, 7402-11
  • 16) P.F. Kramer, C.H. Christensen, L.A. Hazelwood, A. Dobi, R. Bock, D.R. Sibley, Y. Mateo and V.A. Alvarez (2011)
  • Dopamine D2 receptor overexpression alters behavior and physiology in Drd2-EGFP mice
  • J Neuroscience, 31, 126-32
  • 17) G.K. Seabold, J.B. Daunais, A. Rau, K.A. Grant and V.A. Alvarez (2010)
  • Diolistics labeling of neurons from rodent and non-human primates brain slices
  • J Vis Exp, 41, pii: 2081. doi: 10, 3791/2081
  • 18) M. Feyder, R.M. Karlsson, P. Mathur, M. Lyman, R. Bock, R. Momenan, J. Munasinghe, M.L. Scattoni, J. Ihne, M. Camp, C. Graybeal, D. Strathdee, A. Begg, V.A. Alvarez, P. Kirsch, M. Rietschel, S. Cichon, H. Walter, A. Meyer-Lindenberg, S.G.N. Grant, and A. Holmes (2010)
  • Mouse Dlg4 (PSD-95) gene deletion and human DLG4 gene variation is associated with phenotypes relevant to autism-spectrum disorders and Williams-Beuren syndrome
  • Am J Psychiatry, 167, 1508-17
  • 19) V.A. Alvarez and B.L. Sabatini (2007)
  • Anatomical and physiological plasticity of dendritic spines.
  • Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 30, 79-97
  • 20) V. A. Alvarez, D.A. Ridenour and B.L. Sabatini (2006)
  • Retraction of synapses and dendritic spines induced by off-target effects of RNA interference.
  • J. Neurosci., 26, 7820-5
  • 21) S.F. Tavazoie, V.A. Alvarez, D.A. Ridenour, D.J. Kwiatkowski, B.L. Sabatini (2005)
  • Regulation of neuronal morphology and function by the tumor suppressors Tsc1 and Tsc2.
  • Nat Neurosci, 8, 1727-1734
  • 22) V.A. Alvarez, S. Arttamangkul, J. Whistler, M. van Zastrow, D. Grandy and J.T. Williams (2002)
  • µ-Opioid receptors: activation of potassium conductance, desensitization and internalization.
  • J Neurosci., 22, 5769-76
  • 23) V.A. Alvarez, C. Chow, E.J. Van Bockstaele and J.T. Williams (2002)
  • Frequency-dependent synchronization of locus coeruleus neurons: role of electrotonic coupling.
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 99, 4032-6
  • 24) V.A. Alvarez Maubecin, F. Garcia-Hernandez, J.T. Williams and E. Van Bockstaele (2000)
  • Functional coupling between neurons and glia.
  • J. Neurosci., 20, 4091-4098
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