Prof. Kay M Tye

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Primary DLC

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

MIT Room: 46-6263

Areas of Interest and Expertise

Imaging Techniques

Research Summary

Behaviors are motivated by two emotional valences: Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The ability to select appropriate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, such as avoiding a predator or approaching a food source, is critical for survival. Although most animals are capable of learning to assign either positive or negative associations to environmental cues, we are only beginning to understand the underlying neural circuits and the plasticity that mediates the formation, revision or extinction of an associative memory.

How are emotional or motivational associations assigned to environmental cues? Where do the circuits processing associative information diverge to differentially encode positive and negative valence?

When there are perturbations in the neural circuits mediating reward processing, fear, motivation, memory or inhibitory control, we may observe a number of disease states such as substance abuse, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and depression. These are among the most prevalent neuropsychiatric disorders, and show a high rate of co-morbidity with each other, as patients diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are approximately twice as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.

Do perturbations in common neural circuits processing motivation, memory or affective valence underlie this high-rate of co-morbidity? Can emotional states such as increased anxiety alter a given experience and increase the propensity for substance abuse by facilitating long-term changes associated with reward-related learning? If so, what is the mechanism?

In addition to scientific excellence and integrity, top values of the Tye Laboratory include mentorship, collaboration, innovation and above all, a positive mental attitude.

Recent Work