Professional Education

  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Colorado Boulder (2011)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Texas Austin (2019)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Love it or Leave it: Differential Modulation of Incentive Motivation by Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons. Biological psychiatry Pomrenze, M. B., Marinelli, M. 2021; 89 (12): 1113-1115

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biopsych.2021.03.032

    View details for PubMedID 34082887

  • Extended Amygdala Neuropeptide Circuitry of Emotional Arousal: Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed Nuclei of Stria Terminalis. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience Giardino, W. J., Pomrenze, M. B. 2021; 15: 613025


    Sleep is fundamental to life, and poor sleep quality is linked to the suboptimal function of the neural circuits that process and respond to emotional stimuli. Wakefulness ("arousal") is chiefly regulated by circadian and homeostatic forces, but affective mood states also strongly impact the balance between sleep and wake. Considering the bidirectional relationships between sleep/wake changes and emotional dynamics, we use the term "emotional arousal" as a representative characteristic of the profound overlap between brain pathways that: (1) modulate wakefulness; (2) interpret emotional information; and (3) calibrate motivated behaviors. Interestingly, many emotional arousal circuits communicate using specialized signaling molecules called neuropeptides to broadly modify neural network activities. One major neuropeptide-enriched brain region that is critical for emotional processing and has been recently implicated in sleep regulation is the bed nuclei of stria terminalis (BNST), a core component of the extended amygdala (an anatomical term that also includes the central and medial amygdalae, nucleus accumbens shell, and transition zones betwixt). The BNST encompasses an astonishing diversity of cell types that differ across many features including spatial organization, molecular signature, biological sex and hormonal milieu, synaptic input, axonal output, neurophysiological communication mode, and functional role. Given this tremendous complexity, comprehensive elucidation of the BNST neuropeptide circuit mechanisms underlying emotional arousal presents an ambitious set of challenges. In this review, we describe how rigorous investigation of these unresolved questions may reveal key insights to enhancing psychiatric treatments and global psychological wellbeing.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnbeh.2021.613025

    View details for PubMedID 33633549

  • Dissecting neural mechanisms of prosocial behaviors. Current opinion in neurobiology Walsh, J. J., Christoffel, D. J., Wu, X., Pomrenze, M. B., Malenka, R. C. 2020; 68: 9–14


    Prosocial behaviors are essential for group cooperation, which enrich life experience and enhance survival. These complex behaviors are governed by intricate interactions between numerous neural circuits functioning in concert. Impairments in prosocial interactions result from disruptions of this coordinated brain activity and are a prominent feature of several pathological conditions including autism spectrum disorder, depression and addiction. Here we highlight recent studies that use advanced techniques to anatomically map, monitor and manipulate neural circuits that influence prosocial behavior. These recent findings provide important clues to unravel the complexities of the neural mechanisms that mediate prosocial interactions and offer insights into new strategies for the treatment of aberrant social behavior.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.conb.2020.11.006

    View details for PubMedID 33278639

  • A New Look at the Role of Mesoamygdaloid Dopamine Neurons in Aversive Conditioning. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience Cardozo Pinto, D. F., Taniguchi, L. n., Norville, Z. C., Pomrenze, M. B. 2020; 40 (40): 7590–92

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1483-20.2020

    View details for PubMedID 32998956

  • Differential regulation of alcohol consumption and reward by the transcriptional cofactor LMO4. Molecular psychiatry Maiya, R. n., Pomrenze, M. B., Tran, T. n., Tiwari, G. R., Beckham, A. n., Paul, M. T., Dayne Mayfield, R. n., Messing, R. O. 2020


    Repeated alcohol exposure leads to changes in gene expression that are thought to underlie the transition from moderate to excessive drinking. However, the mechanisms by which these changes are integrated into a maladaptive response that leads to alcohol dependence are not well understood. One mechanism could involve the recruitment of transcriptional co-regulators that bind and modulate the activity of transcription factors. Our results indicate that the transcriptional regulator LMO4 is one such candidate regulator. Lmo4-deficient mice (Lmo4gt/+) consumed significantly more and showed enhanced preference for alcohol in a 24 h intermittent access drinking procedure. shRNA-mediated knockdown of Lmo4 in the nucleus accumbens enhanced alcohol consumption, whereas knockdown in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) decreased alcohol consumption and reduced conditioned place preference for alcohol. To ascertain the molecular mechanisms that underlie these contrasting phenotypes, we carried out unbiased transcriptome profiling of these two brain regions in wild type and Lmo4gt/+ mice. Our results revealed that the transcriptional targets of LMO4 are vastly different between the two brain regions, which may explain the divergent phenotypes observed upon Lmo4 knockdown. Bioinformatic analyses revealed that Oprk1 and genes related to the extracellular matrix (ECM) are important transcriptional targets of LMO4 in the BLA. Chromatin immunoprecipitation revealed that LMO4 bound Oprk1 promoter elements. Consistent with these results, disruption of the ECM or infusion of norbinaltorphimine, a selective kappa opioid receptor antagonist, in the BLA reduced alcohol consumption. Hence our results indicate that an LMO4-regulated transcriptional network regulates alcohol consumption in the BLA.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41380-020-0706-8

    View details for PubMedID 32144357

  • Dissecting the Roles of GABA and Neuropeptides from Rat Central Amygdala CRF Neurons in Anxiety and Fear Learning. Cell reports Pomrenze, M. B., Giovanetti, S. M., Maiya, R., Gordon, A. G., Kreeger, L. J., Messing, R. O. 2019; 29 (1): 13


    Central amygdala (CeA) neurons that produce corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) regulate anxiety and fear learning. These CeACRF neurons release GABA and several neuropeptides predicted to play important yet opposing roles in these behaviors. We dissected the relative roles of GABA, CRF, dynorphin, and neurotensin in CeACRF neurons in anxiety and fear learning by disrupting their expression using RNAi in male rats. GABA, but not CRF, dynorphin, or neurotensin, regulates baseline anxiety-like behavior. In contrast, chemogenetic stimulation of CeACRF neurons evokes anxiety-like behavior dependent on CRF and dynorphin, but not neurotensin. Finally, knockdown of CRFand dynorphin impairs fear learning, whereas knockdown of neurotensin enhances it. Our results demonstrate distinct behavioral roles for GABA, CRF, dynorphin, and neurotensin in a subpopulation of CeA neurons. These results highlight the importance of considering the repertoire of signaling molecules released from a given neuronal population when studying the circuit basis of behavior.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.08.083

    View details for PubMedID 31577943

  • Promoting activity of (α4)3(β2)2 nicotinic cholinergic receptors reduces ethanol consumption. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Wang, J., Blasio, A., Chapman, H. L., Doebelin, C., Liaw, V., Kuryatov, A., Giovanetti, S. M., Lindstrom, J., Lin, L., Cameron, M. D., Kamenecka, T. M., Pomrenze, M. B., Messing, R. O. 2019


    There is increasing interest in developing drugs that act at α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) to treat alcohol use disorder. The smoking cessation agent varenicline, a partial agonist of α4β2 nAChRs, reduces alcohol intake, but its use can be limited by side effects at high therapeutic doses. There are two stoichiometric forms of α4β2 nAChRs, (α4)3(β2)2 and (α4)2(β2)3. Here we investigated the hypothesis that NS9283, a positive allosteric modulator selective for the (α4)3(β2)2 form, reduces ethanol consumption. NS9283 increased the potency of varenicline to activate and desensitize (α4)3(β2)2 nAChRs in vitro without affecting other known targets of varenicline. In male and female C57BL/6J mice, NS9283 (10 mg/kg) reduced ethanol intake in a two-bottle choice, intermittent drinking procedure without affecting saccharin intake, ethanol-induced incoordination or ethanol-induced loss of the righting reflex. Subthreshold doses of NS9283 (2.5 mg/kg) plus varenicline (0.1 mg/kg) synergistically reduced ethanol intake in both sexes. Finally, despite having no aversive valence of its own, NS9283 enhanced ethanol-conditioned place aversion. We conclude that compounds targeting the (α4)3(β2)2 subtype of nAChRs can reduce alcohol consumption, and when administered in combination with varenicline, may allow use of lower varenicline doses to decrease varenicline side effects.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41386-019-0475-8

    View details for PubMedID 31394567

  • Inactivation of a CRF-dependent amygdalofugal pathway reverses addiction-like behaviors in alcohol-dependent rats. Nature communications de Guglielmo, G., Kallupi, M., Pomrenze, M. B., Crawford, E., Simpson, S., Schweitzer, P., Koob, G. F., Messing, R. O., George, O. 2019; 10 (1): 1238


    The activation of a neuronal ensemble in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) during alcohol withdrawal has been hypothesized to induce high levels of alcohol drinking in dependent rats. In the present study we describe that the CeA neuronal ensemble that is activated by withdrawal from chronic alcohol exposure contains ~80% corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons and that the optogenetic inactivation of these CeA CRF+ neurons prevents recruitment of the neuronal ensemble, decreases the escalation of alcohol drinking, and decreases the intensity of somatic signs of withdrawal. Optogenetic dissection of the downstream neuronal pathways demonstrates that the reversal of addiction-like behaviors is observed after the inhibition of CeA CRF projections to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and that inhibition of the CRFCeA-BNST pathway is mediated by inhibition of the CRF-CRF1 system and inhibition of BNST cell firing. These results suggest that the CRFCeA-BNST pathway could be targeted for the treatment of excessive drinking in alcohol use disorder.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-019-09183-0

    View details for PubMedID 30886240

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6423296

  • A Corticotropin Releasing Factor Network in the Extended Amygdala for Anxiety. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience Pomrenze, M. B., Tovar-Diaz, J., Blasio, A., Maiya, R., Giovanetti, S. M., Lei, K., Morikawa, H., Hopf, F. W., Messing, R. O. 2019; 39 (6): 1030-1043


    The central amygdala (CeA) is important for fear responses to discrete cues. Recent findings indicate that the CeA also contributes to states of sustained apprehension that characterize anxiety, although little is known about the neural circuitry involved. The stress neuropeptide corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) is anxiogenic and is produced by subpopulations of neurons in the lateral CeA and the dorsolateral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (dlBST). Here we investigated the function of these CRF neurons in stress-induced anxiety using chemogenetics in male rats that express Cre recombinase from a Crh promoter. Anxiety-like behavior was mediated by CRF projections from the CeA to the dlBST and depended on activation of CRF1 receptors and CRF neurons within the dlBST. Our findings identify a CRFCeA→CRFdlBST circuit for generating anxiety-like behavior and provide mechanistic support for recent human and primate data suggesting that the CeA and BST act together to generate states of anxiety.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Anxiety is a negative emotional state critical to survival, but persistent, exaggerated apprehension causes substantial morbidity. Identifying brain regions and neurotransmitter systems that drive anxiety can help in developing effective treatment. Much evidence in rodents indicates that neurons in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) generate anxiety-like behaviors, but more recent findings also implicate neurons of the CeA. The neuronal subpopulations and circuitry that generate anxiety are currently subjects of intense investigation. Here we show that CeA neurons that release the stress neuropeptide corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) drive anxiety-like behaviors in rats via a pathway to dorsal BST that activates local BST CRF neurons. Thus, our findings identify a CeA→BST CRF neuropeptide circuit that generates anxiety-like behavior.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2143-18.2018

    View details for PubMedID 30530860

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6363927

  • Novel Small-Molecule Inhibitors of Protein Kinase C Epsilon Reduce Ethanol Consumption in Mice. Biological psychiatry Blasio, A., Wang, J., Wang, D., Varodayan, F. P., Pomrenze, M. B., Miller, J., Lee, A. M., McMahon, T., Gyawali, S., Wang, H. Y., Roberto, M., McHardy, S., Pleiss, M. A., Messing, R. O. 2018; 84 (3): 193-201


    Despite the high cost and widespread prevalence of alcohol use disorders, treatment options are limited, underscoring the need for new, effective medications. Previous results using protein kinase C epsilon (PKCε) knockout mice, RNA interference against PKCε, and peptide inhibitors of PKCε predict that small-molecule inhibitors of PKCε should reduce alcohol consumption in humans.We designed a new class of PKCε inhibitors based on the Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) inhibitor Y-27632. In vitro kinase and binding assays were used to identify the most potent compounds. Their effects on ethanol-stimulated synaptic transmission; ethanol, sucrose, and quinine consumption; ethanol-induced loss of righting; and ethanol clearance were studied in mice.We identified two compounds that inhibited PKCε with Ki <20 nM, showed selectivity for PKCε over other kinases, crossed the blood-brain barrier, achieved effective concentrations in mouse brain, prevented ethanol-stimulated gamma-aminobutyric acid release in the central amygdala, and reduced ethanol consumption when administered intraperitoneally at 40 mg/kg in wild-type but not in Prkce-/- mice. One compound also reduced sucrose and saccharin consumption, while the other was selective for ethanol. Both transiently impaired locomotion through an off-target effect that did not interfere with their ability to reduce ethanol intake. One compound prolonged recovery from ethanol-induced loss of righting but this was also due to an off-target effect since it was present in Prkce-/- mice. Neither altered ethanol clearance.These results identify lead compounds for development of PKCε inhibitors that reduce alcohol consumption.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.10.017

    View details for PubMedID 29198469

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5984071

  • Cooperative CRF and α1 Adrenergic Signaling in the VTA Promotes NMDA Plasticity and Drives Social Stress Enhancement of Cocaine Conditioning. Cell reports Tovar-Díaz, J., Pomrenze, M. B., Kan, R., Pahlavan, B., Morikawa, H. 2018; 22 (10): 2756-2766


    Stressful events rapidly trigger activity-dependent synaptic plasticity, driving the formation of aversive memories. However, it remains unclear how stressful experience affects plasticity mechanisms to regulate appetitive learning, such as intake of addictive drugs. Using rats, we show that corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and α1 adrenergic receptor (α1AR) signaling enhance the plasticity of NMDA-receptor-mediated glutamatergic transmission in ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons through distinct effects on inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate (IP3)-dependent Ca2+ signaling. We find that CRF amplifies IP3-Ca2+ signaling induced by stimulation of α1ARs, revealing a cooperative mechanism that promotes glutamatergic plasticity. In line with this, acute social defeat stress engages similar cooperative CRF and α1AR signaling in the VTA to enhance learning of cocaine-paired cues. These data provide evidence that CRF and α1ARs act in concert to regulate IP3-Ca2+ signaling in the VTA and promote learning of drug-associated cues.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.02.039

    View details for PubMedID 29514102

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5877815

  • The Corticotropin Releasing Factor Receptor 1 in Alcohol Use Disorder: Still a Valid Drug Target? Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research Pomrenze, M. B., Fetterly, T. L., Winder, D. G., Messing, R. O. 2017; 41 (12): 1986-1999


    Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) is a neuropeptide that plays a key role in behavioral and physiological responses to stress. A large body of animal literature implicates CRF acting at type 1 CRF receptors (CRFR1) in consumption by alcohol-dependent subjects, stress-induced reinstatement of alcohol seeking, and possibly binge alcohol consumption. These studies have encouraged recent pilot studies of CRFR1 antagonists in humans with alcohol use disorder (AUD). It was a great disappointment to many in the field that these studies failed to show an effect of these compounds on stress-induced alcohol craving. Here, we examine these studies to explore potential limitations and discuss preclinical and human literature to ask whether CRFR1 is still a valid drug target to pursue for the treatment of AUD.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/acer.13507

    View details for PubMedID 28940382

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5711524

  • Repeated social defeat stress enhances glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the VTA and cocaine place conditioning. eLife Stelly, C. E., Pomrenze, M. B., Cook, J. B., Morikawa, H. 2016; 5


    Enduring memories of sensory cues associated with drug intake drive addiction. It is well known that stressful experiences increase addiction vulnerability. However, it is not clear how repeated stress promotes learning of cue-drug associations, as repeated stress generally impairs learning and memory processes unrelated to stressful experiences. Here, we show that repeated social defeat stress in rats causes persistent enhancement of long-term potentiation (LTP) of NMDA receptor-mediated glutamatergic transmission in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Protein kinase A-dependent increase in the potency of inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate-induced Ca(2+) signaling underlies LTP facilitation. Notably, defeated rats display enhanced learning of contextual cues paired with cocaine experience assessed using a conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm. Enhancement of LTP in the VTA and cocaine CPP in behaving rats both require glucocorticoid receptor activation during defeat episodes. These findings suggest that enhanced glutamatergic plasticity in the VTA may contribute, at least partially, to increased addiction vulnerability following repeated stressful experiences.

    View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.15448

    View details for PubMedID 27374604

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4931908

  • DAT isn't all that: cocaine reward and reinforcement require Toll-like receptor 4 signaling. Molecular psychiatry Northcutt, A. L., Hutchinson, M. R., Wang, X., Baratta, M. V., Hiranita, T., Cochran, T. A., Pomrenze, M. B., Galer, E. L., Kopajtic, T. A., Li, C. M., Amat, J., Larson, G., Cooper, D. C., Huang, Y., O'Neill, C. E., Yin, H., Zahniser, N. R., Katz, J. L., Rice, K. C., Maier, S. F., Bachtell, R. K., Watkins, L. R. 2015; 20 (12): 1525-37


    The initial reinforcing properties of drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, are largely attributed to their ability to activate the mesolimbic dopamine system. Resulting increases in extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) are traditionally thought to result from cocaine's ability to block dopamine transporters (DATs). Here we demonstrate that cocaine also interacts with the immunosurveillance receptor complex, Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), on microglial cells to initiate central innate immune signaling. Disruption of cocaine signaling at TLR4 suppresses cocaine-induced extracellular dopamine in the NAc, as well as cocaine conditioned place preference and cocaine self-administration. These results provide a novel understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying cocaine reward/reinforcement that includes a critical role for central immune signaling, and offer a new target for medication development for cocaine abuse treatment.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/mp.2014.177

    View details for PubMedID 25644383

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4523496