Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota Twin Cities (2010)

Stanford Advisors

Research & Scholarship

Lab Affiliations


All Publications

  • Single-Cell mRNA Profiling Reveals Cell-Type-Specific Expression of Neurexin Isoforms. Neuron Fuccillo, M. V., Földy, C., Gökce, Ö., Rothwell, P. E., Sun, G. L., Malenka, R. C., Südhof, T. C. 2015; 87 (2): 326-340


    Neurexins are considered central organizers of synapse architecture that are implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders. Expression of neurexins in hundreds of alternatively spliced isoforms suggested that individual neurons might exhibit a cell-type-specific neurexin expression pattern (a neurexin code). To test this hypothesis, we quantified the single-cell levels of neurexin isoforms and other trans-synaptic cell-adhesion molecules by microfluidics-based RT-PCR. We show that the neurexin repertoire displays pronounced cell-type specificity that is remarkably consistent within each type of neuron. Furthermore, we uncovered region-specific regulation of neurexin transcription and splice-site usage. Finally, we demonstrate that the transcriptional profiles of neurexins can be altered in an experience-dependent fashion by exposure to a drug of abuse. Our data provide evidence of cell-type-specific expression patterns of multiple neurexins at the single-cell level and suggest that expression of synaptic cell-adhesion molecules overlaps with other key features of cellular identity and diversity.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.06.028

    View details for PubMedID 26182417

  • Autism-Associated Neuroligin-3 Mutations Commonly Impair Striatal Circuits to Boost Repetitive Behaviors CELL Rothwell, P. E., Fuccillo, M. V., Maxeiner, S., Hayton, S. J., Gokce, O., Lim, B. K., Fowler, S. C., Malenka, R. C., Suedhof, T. C. 2014; 158 (1): 198-212


    In humans, neuroligin-3 mutations are associated with autism, whereas in mice, the corresponding mutations produce robust synaptic and behavioral changes. However, different neuroligin-3 mutations cause largely distinct phenotypes in mice, and no causal relationship links a specific synaptic dysfunction to a behavioral change. Using rotarod motor learning as a proxy for acquired repetitive behaviors in mice, we found that different neuroligin-3 mutations uniformly enhanced formation of repetitive motor routines. Surprisingly, neuroligin-3 mutations caused this phenotype not via changes in the cerebellum or dorsal striatum but via a selective synaptic impairment in the nucleus accumbens/ventral striatum. Here, neuroligin-3 mutations increased rotarod learning by specifically impeding synaptic inhibition onto D1-dopamine receptor-expressing but not D2-dopamine receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons. Our data thus suggest that different autism-associated neuroligin-3 mutations cause a common increase in acquired repetitive behaviors by impairing a specific striatal synapse and thereby provide a plausible circuit substrate for autism pathophysiology. PAPERFLICK:

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2014.04.045

    View details for Web of Science ID 000340943100018

    View details for PubMedID 24995986

  • Illuminating the opponent process: cocaine effects on habenulomesencephalic circuitry. journal of neuroscience Rothwell, P. E., Lammel, S. 2013; 33 (35): 13935-13937

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2680-13.2013

    View details for PubMedID 23986229

  • Anhedonia requires MC4R-mediated synaptic adaptations in nucleus accumbens NATURE Lim, B. K., Huang, K. W., Grueter, B. A., Rothwell, P. E., Malenka, R. C. 2012; 487 (7406): 183-U64


    Chronic stress is a strong diathesis for depression in humans and is used to generate animal models of depression. It commonly leads to several major symptoms of depression, including dysregulated feeding behaviour, anhedonia and behavioural despair. Although hypotheses defining the neural pathophysiology of depression have been proposed, the critical synaptic adaptations in key brain circuits that mediate stress-induced depressive symptoms remain poorly understood. Here we show that chronic stress in mice decreases the strength of excitatory synapses on D1 dopamine receptor-expressing nucleus accumbens medium spiny neurons owing to activation of the melanocortin 4 receptor. Stress-elicited increases in behavioural measurements of anhedonia, but not increases in measurements of behavioural despair, are prevented by blocking these melanocortin 4 receptor-mediated synaptic changes in vivo. These results establish that stress-elicited anhedonia requires a neuropeptide-triggered, cell-type-specific synaptic adaptation in the nucleus accumbens and that distinct circuit adaptations mediate other major symptoms of stress-elicited depression.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature11160

    View details for Web of Science ID 000306278900029

    View details for PubMedID 22785313

  • Integrating synaptic plasticity and striatal circuit function in addiction CURRENT OPINION IN NEUROBIOLOGY Grueter, B. A., Rothwell, P. E., Malenka, R. C. 2012; 22 (3): 545-551


    Exposure to addictive drugs causes changes in synaptic function within the striatal complex, which can either mimic or interfere with the induction of synaptic plasticity. These synaptic adaptations include changes in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a ventral striatal subregion important for drug reward and reinforcement, as well as the dorsal striatum, which may promote habitual drug use. As the behavioral effects of drugs of abuse are long-lasting, identifying persistent changes in striatal circuits induced by in vivo drug experience is of considerable importance. Within the striatum, drugs of abuse have been shown to induce modifications in dendritic morphology, ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluR) and the induction of synaptic plasticity. Understanding the detailed molecular mechanisms underlying these changes in striatal circuit function will provide insight into how drugs of abuse usurp normal learning mechanisms to produce pathological behavior.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.conb.2011.09.009

    View details for Web of Science ID 000306634700024

    View details for PubMedID 22000687

  • Protracted manifestations of acute dependence after a single morphine exposure PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY Rothwell, P. E., Thomas, M. J., Gewirtz, J. C. 2012; 219 (4): 991-998


    Acute opiate exposure produces a state of dependence in humans and animals, which is revealed by signs and symptoms of withdrawal precipitated by opioid receptor antagonists. The physiological changes that underlie this state of acute dependence develop rapidly and can persist long after the end of chronic opiate exposure.The purpose of this investigation was to determine the persistence of acute dependence after a single morphine exposure in rodents, focusing on changes in behavior thought to reflect the negative emotional consequences of withdrawal.The acoustic startle reflex and conditioned place aversion were measured following naloxone administration at different time points after a single morphine exposure.Naloxone administration produced significant potentiation of acoustic startle-a form of anxiety-like behavior-for at least 80 days after one exposure to morphine. In contrast, naloxone produced a conditioned place aversion 24 h but not 20 days after one morphine exposure.Together with existing literature, these results suggest acute as well as chronic opiate exposure leave rodents persistently vulnerable to express anxiety-like behavior in response to opioid receptor antagonists or stressful experience. The adaptations in brain function that underlie this protracted state of dependence may provide a foundation for the escalation of withdrawal severity that develops over repeated opiate exposure, and increase the likelihood of progression from casual drug use to compulsive drug abuse.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00213-011-2425-y

    View details for Web of Science ID 000300779900006

    View details for PubMedID 21833504

  • Environmental novelty causes stress-like adaptations at nucleus accumbens synapses: Implications for studying addiction-related plasticity NEUROPHARMACOLOGY Rothwell, P. E., Kourrich, S., Thomas, M. J. 2011; 61 (7): 1152-1159


    Exposure to abused drugs and stressful experience, two factors that promote the development of addiction, also modify synaptic function in the mesolimbic dopamine system. Here, we show that exposure to a novel environment produces functional synaptic adaptations in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) that mirror the effect of conventional forms of stress. We find an enhancement of excitatory synaptic strength in the NAc shell one day after exposure to a novel environment for 60 min--an effect not observed in NAc core. This effect disappeared following repeated exposure to the same environment, but then reappeared if mice are returned to the same environment 10-14 days later. There were no interactions between the effects of environmental novelty and a single exposure to cocaine (15 mg/kg), with no effect of the latter on synaptic strength in NAc shell. These results have important implications for designing studies of NAc synapses in the context of behavioral analysis, and expand our understanding of how different forms of stress modify NAc synaptic function.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.01.038

    View details for Web of Science ID 000295956700011

    View details for PubMedID 21315090

  • Synaptic Adaptations in the Nucleus Accumbens Caused by Experiences Linked to Relapse BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY Rothwell, P. E., Kourrich, S., Thomas, M. J. 2011; 69 (11): 1124-1126


    Excitatory synaptic transmission in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) regulates the reinstatement of drug seeking, an animal model of relapse in human drug addicts. However, the functional adaptations at NAc synapses that mediate reinstatement are not clearly understood.We assessed the behavioral responses of mice to cocaine administration by measuring locomotor stimulation and the acquisition, extinction, and reinstatement of conditioned place preference. Synaptic function was then examined by preparing acute brain slices and performing whole cell voltage-clamp recordings from individual medium spiny neurons in the NAc shell.We find that reduced excitatory synaptic strength in the NAc shell is a common functional adaptation induced by multiple experiences known to cause reinstatement, including stress and drug re-exposure. The same synaptic adaptation is observed shortly after reinstatement of conditioned place preference by a cocaine priming injection.This common synaptic modification associated with stress, drug re-exposure, and reinstatement defines a potential synaptic gateway to relapse.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.12.028

    View details for Web of Science ID 000290300600018

    View details for PubMedID 21329910

  • An Anatomical Basis for Opponent Process Mechanisms of Opiate Withdrawal JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Radke, A. K., Rothwell, P. E., Gewirtz, J. C. 2011; 31 (20): 7533-7539


    Opponent process theory predicts that the first step in the induction of drug withdrawal is the activation of reward-related circuitry. Using the acoustic startle reflex as a model of anxiety-like behavior in rats, we show the emergence of a negative affective state during withdrawal after direct infusion of morphine into the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the origin of the mesolimbic dopamine system. Potentiation of startle during withdrawal from systemic morphine exposure requires a decrease in opiate receptor stimulation in the VTA and can be relieved by administration of the dopamine receptor agonist apomorphine. Together, our results suggest that the emergence of anxiety during withdrawal from acute opiate exposure begins with activation of VTA mesolimbic dopamine circuitry, providing a mechanism for the opponent process view of withdrawal.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0172-11.2011

    View details for Web of Science ID 000290716600033

    View details for PubMedID 21593338

  • Episodic Withdrawal Promotes Psychomotor Sensitization to Morphine NEUROPSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY Rothwell, P. E., Gewirtz, J. C., Thomas, M. J. 2010; 35 (13): 2579-2589


    The relative intermittency or continuity of drug delivery is a major determinant of addictive liability, and also influences the impact of drug exposure on brain function and behavior. Events that occur during the offset of drug action (ie, acute withdrawal) may have an important role in the consequences of intermittent drug exposure. We assessed whether recurrent episodes of acute withdrawal contribute to the development of psychomotor sensitization in rodents during daily morphine exposure. The acoustic startle reflex--a measure of anxiety induced by opiate withdrawal-was used to resolve and quantify discrete withdrawal episodes, and pharmacological interventions were used to manipulate withdrawal severity. Startle potentiation was observed during spontaneous withdrawal from a single morphine exposure, and individual differences in initial withdrawal severity positively predicted the subsequent development of sensitization. Manipulations that reduce or exacerbate withdrawal severity also produced parallel changes in the degree of sensitization. These results demonstrate that the episodic experience of withdrawal during daily drug exposure has a novel role in promoting the development of psychomotor sensitization--a prominent model of drug-induced neurobehavioral plasticity. Episodic withdrawal may have a pervasive role in many effects of intermittent drug exposure and contribute to the development of addiction.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/npp.2010.134

    View details for Web of Science ID 000284104400010

    View details for PubMedID 20811341

  • Parsing Spontaneous and Evoked Neurotransmission on Both Sides of the Synapse JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Rothwell, P. E. 2010; 30 (19): 6480-6481
  • Protein Kinase C Mediates the Synergistic Interaction Between Agonists Acting at alpha(2)-Adrenergic and Delta-Opioid Receptors in Spinal Cord JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Overland, A. C., Kitto, K. F., Chabot-Dore, A., Rothwell, P. E., Fairbanks, C. A., Stone, L. S., Wilcox, G. L. 2009; 29 (42): 13264-13273


    Coactivation of spinal alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors (ARs) and opioid receptors produces antinociceptive synergy. Antinociceptive synergy between intrathecally administered alpha(2)AR and opioid agonists is well documented, but the mechanism underlying this synergy remains unclear. The delta-opioid receptor (DOP) and the alpha(2A)ARs are coexpressed on the terminals of primary afferent fibers in the spinal cord where they may mediate this phenomenon. We evaluated the ability of the DOP-selective agonist deltorphin II (DELT), the alpha(2)AR agonist clonidine (CLON) or their combination to inhibit calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) release from spinal cord slices. We then examined the possible underlying signaling mechanisms involved through coadministration of inhibitors of phospholipase C (PLC), protein kinase C (PKC) or protein kinase A (PKA). Potassium-evoked depolarization of spinal cord slices caused concentration-dependent release of CGRP. Coadministration of DELT and CLON inhibited the release of CGRP in a synergistic manner as confirmed statistically by isobolograpic analysis. Synergy was dependent on the activation of PLC and PKC, but not PKA, whereas the effect of agonist administration alone was only dependent on PLC. The importance of these findings was confirmed in vivo, using a thermal nociceptive test, demonstrating the PKC dependence of CLON-DELT antinociceptive synergy in mice. That inhibition of CGRP release by the combination was maintained in the presence of tetrodotoxin in spinal cord slices suggests that synergy does not rely on interneuronal signaling and may occur within single subcellular compartments. The present study reveals a novel signaling pathway underlying the synergistic analgesic interaction between DOP and alpha(2)AR agonists in the spinal cord.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1907-09.2009

    View details for Web of Science ID 000271002600020

    View details for PubMedID 19846714

  • Distinct Profiles of Anxiety and Dysphoria during Spontaneous Withdrawal from Acute Morphine Exposure NEUROPSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY Rothwell, P. E., Thomas, M. J., Gewirtz, J. C. 2009; 34 (10): 2285-2295


    The negative motivational aspects of withdrawal include symptoms of both anxiety and depression, and emerge after termination of chronic drug use as well as after acute drug exposure. States of acute withdrawal are an inherent part of intermittent drug use in humans, but the contribution of acute withdrawal to the development of addiction has received limited systematic investigation, because of a lack of preclinical models for withdrawal states that emerge spontaneously after acute drug exposure. Here, we have characterized a spontaneous increase in the magnitude of the acoustic startle reflex (ie, spontaneous withdrawal-potentiated startle) that emerges after acute morphine administration in rats, and compared the time course of startle potentiation and place conditioning. We find that startle potentiation seems to be related to a decrease in opiate receptor occupancy and reflects an anxiety-like state with a pharmacological profile similar to other signs of opiate withdrawal. Spontaneous startle potentiation emerges before the rewarding effects of morphine have subsided, even though naloxone administration after a single morphine exposure causes both startle potentiation and conditioned place aversion (CPA). These results show that negative emotional signs of withdrawal develop after just one exposure to morphine, and are likely a recurrent aspect of intermittent drug use that may contribute to the earliest adaptations underlying the development of addiction. Furthermore, the dissociation between spontaneous startle potentiation and CPA suggests anxiogenic and dysphoric manifestations of opiate withdrawal may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms that are progressively engaged as withdrawal unfolds.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/npp.2009.56

    View details for Web of Science ID 000268919100009

    View details for PubMedID 19494807

  • Effects of the NMDA receptor antagonist memantine on the expression and development of acute opiate dependence as assessed by withdrawal-potentiated startle and hyperalgesia PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY Harris, A. C., Rothwell, P. E., Gewirtz, J. C. 2008; 196 (4): 649-660


    While the N-methyl-D: -aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor has been strongly implicated in chronic opiate dependence, relatively few studies have examined the effects of NMDA receptor antagonists on withdrawal from acute opiate exposure.The current study examined the effects of memantine, a well-tolerated NMDA receptor antagonist, on acute opiate dependence as assessed by elevations in rodent startle responding (i.e., "withdrawal-potentiated startle") and increased pain sensitivity (i.e., hyperalgesia).Administration of memantine either attenuated (5 mg/kg) or blocked (10 mg/kg) the expression of withdrawal-potentiated startle during naloxone (2.5 mg/kg)-precipitated withdrawal from a single dose of morphine sulfate (10 mg/kg). Pre-treatment with the NMDA receptor antagonist also inhibited the exacerbation of withdrawal-potentiated startle across repeated acute opiate exposures. Memantine blocked the expression of acute dependence, but was less effective in inhibiting its escalation, when hyperalgesia was used as a measure of withdrawal. These doses of memantine did not affect startle responding or nociception in otherwise drug-free animals. Data from additional control groups indicated that the effects of memantine on the expression of withdrawal were not influenced by nonspecific interactions between the NMDA antagonist and either morphine or naloxone.These findings suggest that the NMDA receptor may play a key role in the earliest stages of opiate dependence and provide further evidence that memantine may be useful for the treatment of opiate withdrawal.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00213-007-0998-2

    View details for Web of Science ID 000253202300016

    View details for PubMedID 18026718

  • Cocaine experience controls bidirectional synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Kourrich, S., Rothwell, P. E., Klug, J. R., Thomas, M. J. 2007; 27 (30): 7921-7928


    Plasticity of glutamatergic synapses is a fundamental mechanism through which experience changes neural function to impact future behavior. In animal models of addiction, glutamatergic signaling in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) exerts powerful control over drug-seeking behavior. However, little is known about whether, how or when experience with drugs may trigger synaptic plasticity in this key nucleus. Using whole-cell synaptic physiology in NAc brain slices, we demonstrate that a progression of bidirectional changes in glutamatergic synaptic strength occurs after repeated in vivo exposure to cocaine. During a protracted drug-free period, NAc neurons from cocaine-experienced mice develop a robust potentiation of AMPAR-mediated synaptic transmission. However, a single re-exposure to cocaine during extended withdrawal becomes a potent stimulus for synaptic depression, abruptly reversing the initial potentiation. These enduring modifications in AMPAR-mediated responses and plasticity may provide a neural substrate for disrupted processing of drug-related stimuli in drug-experienced individuals.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1859-07.2007

    View details for Web of Science ID 000248484800005

    View details for PubMedID 17652583

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