Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Dr. Steven Laviolette


Associate Professor and N.A.R.S.A.D. Young Investigator

Ph.D. University of Toronto
B.Sc. University of Toronto

Office: 468 Medical Sciences Building
Phone: 519-661-2111 Ext. 80302
Fax: 519-661-3936

Research Interests:

Dr. Laviolette's research interests explore the interface between neurobiology, psychology and emotion by using an integrative combination of in vivo neuronal electrophysiology and behavioural neuropharmacology. At the general level, Dr. Laviolette is interested in exploring the neurobiological mechanisms that control how the brain processes emotionally salient information and how disturbances in these basic neural processes may lead to disorders such as addiction and schizophrenia.

Dr. Laviolette's investigations into the neurobiology of addiction have focused on nicotine and opiates, both of which represent highly addictive substances and act on pathways in the brain that control reward, motivation and learning. Dr. Laviolette's research group has characterized and identified specific regions in the mammalian brain that control the ‘switch’ from the non-addicted state, to the addicted state following exposure to drugs of abuse. Their ongoing research seeks to precisely define and identify the neurobiological mechanisms that control the addiction process at the behavioural, molecular and single neuron levels of analysis.

In addition, Dr. Laviolette's research group is interested in exploring the neuronal mechanisms of emotional associative learning both in single neurons and in specific brain circuits. They have focused on the roles of the endocannabinoid system and specific dopamine receptor populations in the processing of emotionally salient information. Their ongoing research seeks to examine how disturbances in these brain receptor substrates may underlie the distorted sensory processing and emotional associative learning observed in individuals with schizophrenia.

Selected Publications:

  1. Laviolette, Steven R., Lauzon, N.M., Bishop, S.F., Sun, N. and Tan, H. (2008) Dopamine signaling through D1-like versus D2-like receptors in the nucleus accumbens core versus shell differentially modulates nicotine reward sensitivity. Journal of Neuroscience Aug 6; 28(32): 8025-8033.

  2. Laviolette, Steven R. (2007) Dopamine modulation of emotional processing in cortical and subcortical neural circuits: evidence for a final common pathway in schizophrenia? Schizophr Bull. Jul; 33(4): 971-981.

  3. Laviolette, Steven R. and Grace, Anthony A. (2006) Cannabinoids Potentiate Emotional Learning Plasticity in Neurons of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Through Basolateral Amygdala Inputs. Journal of Neuroscience , IN PRESS.

  4. Laviolette, Steven R.,, Lipski, Witold and Grace, Anthony (2005) A Subpopulation of Neurons in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex Encodes Emotional Learning Through a Dopamine D4 Receptor-Dependent Basolateral Amygdala Input. Journal of Neuroscience 25: 6066-6075.

  5. Laviolette, Steven R., Gallegos, Roger, Henriksen, Steven and Van der Kooy, Derek (2004) Opiate State Controls Bi-directional Reward Signaling in the Ventral Tegmental Area via GABAA Receptors. Nature Neuroscience 7: 160-169.

  6. Laviolette, Steven R. and Van der Kooy, Derek (2004) The Neurobiology of Nicotine Addiction: Bridging the Gap from Molecules to Behaviour. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5: 55-65.

  7. Laviolette, Steven R. and Van der Kooy, Derek (2004) GABAA Receptors Gate Bidirectional Reward Signalling from the Ventral Tegmental Area to the Pedunculopontine Nucleus as a Function of Opiate State. European Journal of Neuroscience 20: 2179-2187.

  8. Laviolette, Steven R. and Van der Kooy, Derek (2004) The Motivational Valence of Nicotine in the Rat Ventral Tegmental Area is Switched from Rewarding to Aversive Following Blockade of the a7-Subunit Containing Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor. Psychopharmacology 166: 306-313.

  9. Laviolette, Steven R. and Van der Kooy, Derek (2003) Blockade of Mesolimbic Dopamine Transmission Dramatically Increases Sensitivity to Nicotine’s Rewarding Effects in the Ventral Tegmental Area. Molecular Psychiatry 8: 50-59.

  10. Laviolette, Steven R. , Alexson, Tania O. and Van der Kooy, Derek (2002) Lesions of the Tegmental Pedunculopontine Nucleus Switch the Motivational Valence of Nicotine from Rewarding to Aversive in the Ventral Tegmental Area. Journal of Neuroscience 22: 8653-8660.

  11. Laviolette, Steven R. , Nader, Karim and Van der Kooy, Derek (2002) Motivational State Determines the Functional Role of the Mesolimbic Dopamine System in Opiate Reward Processes. Behavioural Brain Research 129: 17-29.

  12. Cheng, Hai-Ying M., Pitcher, Graham M., Laviolette, Steven R., Whishaw, Ian Q., Tong, Kit I., Kockeritz, Lisa K., Wada, T., Joza, Nicholas A., Crackower, Michael, Goncalvez, Jason, Sarosi, Ildoko, Woodgett, James R., Oliveira-dos-Santos, Antonio J., Mitsohiko, Ikura, Van der Kooy, Derek, Salter, M.W., Penninger, Josef (2002): DREAM is a Critical Transciptional Repressor for Pain Modulation. Cell 108:31-43.