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I. Willuhn PhD

Position
Associate professor (UHD)
Main activities
Research
Specialisation
Behavioral Neuroscience
Focus of research

I am a behavioral neuroscientist with a background in functional anatomy. I am interested in how our brain controls behavior and how we lose control. My scientific focus lies on how release of the neurotransmitter dopamine (and other neuromodulators) regulates cortico-basal ganglia networks under normal (e.g., reward learning), as well as pathological conditions (e.g., OCD, drug addiction). 

My reserach group studies how the brain produces automatic and habitual actions, and how dysregulation of such actions may contribute to compulsive behavior, a common denominator to several neuro-psychiatric disorders such as OCD, addictions, and eating disorders. Compulsive behavior may be constituted by the dysregulation of individual behavioral functions (components), such as cognitive flexibility and habit formation. We study compulsive behavior itself and a variety of its presumed components in rodents, while neural measurements and interventions are performed using state-of-the-art methodology. Long term, our research is intended to lead to novel insights that improve psychiatric therapy.  

Key publications
  • Willuhn I, Burgeno LM, Groblewski PA, Phillips PEM, Excessive cocaine use results from decreased phasic dopamine signaling in the striatum. NAT NEUROSCI 2014;17 (5):704-709 [PubMed]
  • Willuhn I, Burgeno LM, Everitt BJ, Phillips PEM, Hierarchical recruitment of phasic dopamine signaling in the striatum during the progression of cocaine use. P NATL ACAD SCI USA 2012;109 (50):20703-20708 [PubMed]
  • Willuhn I, Tose A, Wanat MJ, Hart AS, Hollon NG, Phillips PEM, Schwarting RKW, Wöhr M, Phasic dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens in response to pro-social 50 kHz ultrasonic vocalizations in rats. J NEUROSCI 2014;34 (32):10616-10623 [PubMed]
  • Flagel SB, Clark JJ, Robinson TE, Mayo L, Czuj A, Willuhn I, Akers CA, Clinton SM, Phillips PEM, Akil H, A selective role for dopamine in stimulus-reward learning. NATURE 2011;469 (7328):53-57 [PubMed]
  • Clark JJ, Sandberg SG, Wanat MJ, Gan JO, Horne EA, Hart AS, Akers CA, Parker JG, Willuhn I, Martinez V, Evans SB, Stella N, Phillips PEM, Chronic microsensors for longitudinal, subsecond dopamine detection in behaving animals. NAT METHODS 2010;7 (2):126-129 [PubMed]
All Publications
Curriculum Vitae

EDUCATION

2001-2007   Doctoral dissertation, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, Rosalind Franklin University/The Chicago Medical School, Chicago, IL, USA

1996-2001   Diploma in Physiological Psychology (equiv. M.Sc.) at Heinrich-Heine University of Düsseldorf, Germany

 

RESEARCH EXPERIENCE

2015-present   Universitair hoofddocent (UHD), Associate Professor, Academic Medical Center (AMC)

2015-present   Group leader, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

2015-present   Principal Investigator, Academic Medical Center (AMC)

2014-present   Universitair docent (UD), Assistant Professor, Academic Medical Center (AMC)

2014-2015   Senior scientist, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

2010-2013   Scientific advisor of the Behavioral Core Facility for Drug Addiction Research at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

2008-2013   Postdoctoral research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

2001-2007   Dissertation research, Rosalind Franklin University/The Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, IL, USA

2000-2001   Diploma (MSc) thesis research, Heinrich-Heine University of Düsseldorf, Germany

 

Research programmes

The neurocircuitry of compulsive behavior

My reserach group studies how the brain produces automatic and habitual actions, and how dysregulation of such actions may contribute to compulsive behavior. Compulsive behavior is believed to be a central common denominator to several neuro-psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), addictions, and eating disorders. Compulsive behavior is likely constituted by the dysregulation of individual behavioral functions (components), such as cognitive inflexibility, and it is aggravated by stress and anxiety, whereby it is hypothesized that aberrant habit formation is crucial for its development. The main objective of my research program is to provide a better understanding of the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of compulsive behavior. In order to do so, compulsive behavior itself and a variety of its presumed components is studied in rodents, while neural measurements and interventions are performed using state-of-the-art methodology. Neural measurements are collected in vivo using electrophysiology, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, calcium imaging, microdialysis, and fMRI, whereas in vivo interventions include deep-brain stimulation, chemogenetics, optogenetics, and pharmacological treatments. My research is intended to lead to novel insights that may tie psychiatric diseases together that are now often studied and treated separately, and to pave the way to define and treat conditions that are common to OCD, addictions, and eating disorders.

Faculty
I. Willuhn PhD (NIN)

Postdocs
T. Arbab MSc
R. Faust PhD
P. Warnaar

PhD Students
Drs. B.J.G. van den Boom (NIN)
M. Derksen (NIN)
I. Ehmer MSc (NIN)
W. van Elzelingen
J.N. Goedhoop
L.M. Burgeno BA (University of Washington, Seattle, USA)

Others
R. Hamelink
N. Yee PhD (Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience)

Prof. dr. D.A.J.P. Denys (Deep Brain Stimulation and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders)

Current research funding
  • AMC (Vrijgesteld)
  • Europese Unie
  • NWO
  • Universiteit van Amsterdam-ABC