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Dr. Gary Aston-Jones

William E. Murray SmartState Endowed Chair in Neuroscience 


  • Specializes in brain mechanisms of motivation and cognitive processes.
  • Primary research focus is the brain neuromodulatory systems and their roles in cognitive performance, drug abuse, sleep and waking, and affective disorders.
  • Professor, Murray Chair of Excellence in Neuroscience
  • Director, Cognitive Neuro Center
  • Co-Director of the Neuroscience Institute
  • BA, University of Virginia
  • PhD, Neurobiology, California Institute of Technology 
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Neurobiology, Salk Institute

Brain mechanisms of motivation and cognitive processes are at the center of Dr. Gary Aston-Jones’ work, with particular emphasis on attentional deficits in certain mental disorders. Problems with brain attentional functions are believed to be behind conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and autism.  He uses a multidisciplinary approach, primarily involving single unit neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and behavioral neuropharmacology. 

Dr. Aston-Jones's Laboratory of Neuromodulation and Behavior studies brain function at the level of neuronal circuits and systems that underlie specific behaviors. His main interests revolve around neuronal circuits that underlie motivated behavior and reward-based learning and memory. He focuses on two major research programs: addiction and cognitive neuroscience.

The addiction research program investigates the neural circuitry underlying the vulnerability to relapse and enhanced drug craving that occurs during protracted abstinence from chronic drug exposure.  HIs cognitive neuroscience research focuses on behavioral control. Current research projects investigate the role of the locus coeruleus and related areas in attention, decision-making, response inhibition, and learning. This work is also relevant to his addiction research, as much of addiction involves changes in neural circuits that underlie attention, decision-making, response inhibition, and learning.

Dr. Aston-Jones’ research has led to a new drug treatment for ADD. Other research efforts have applications for better determining the specific processes involved in learning, dementia, addiction, and depression. 

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