About Our Lab

Our lab studies the neuronal basis of learning and memory. We are located in the Interdiciplinary Science and Technology Building (ISTB) at Michigan State University on the East Lansing Campus.
**Please note, we will be accepting graduate students for Fall 2023 admission class**

We use an interdisciplinary approach combining cutting-edge neuroscience techniques together with sophisticated analyses of behavior in rodents. These studies offer novel insights into facets of ingestive behavior, neuropsychiatric illness and addiction.

Research Focuses

  • Examining the neurobiological and psychological mechanisms that influence the learned control of ingestive behavior

  • Exploring the behavioral mechanisms underlying learning and motivation

  • Using animal models to explore the psychobiological processes underlying mental illness and mood disorders

  • Chemogenetic and optogenetic manipulations assess the role of dopamine in learning and decision-making

Main Players

The Johnson Lab crew:


The Johnson lab uses a number of cutting-edge techniques to manipulate cells of interest with a high degree of spatial and temporal resolution. This is achieved through transgenic and viral-mediated approaches, to allow for chemogenetic and optogenetic interrogation of discrete circuits within the central nervous system. We additionally use a variety of labelling tools to identify circuits of interest. A core focus of the lab also includes close inspection of behavioral mechanisms via the implementation of conditioning preparations (Pavlovian, instrumental) to examine the contents of learning and the decisions to engage in reward and ingestive behaviors.

Video: Optogenetic stimulation studies

Reinstatement of conditioned approach behavior induced by VTA dopamine stimulation. TH-Cre mice are injected with a Cre-dependent channelrhodopsin and subsequently trained to acquire food during presentations of a CS+. Following extinction of the CS+, the capacity for VTA dopamine stimulation alone to invigorate conditioned approach was examined. Stimulation of dopamine cells in this manner reinstated conditioned approach behavior.


What We're Up To