Kay Tye


Systems Neurobiology Laboratory

Wylie Vale Chair

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Kay Tye

Current Research

The Problem

The ability to respond to environmental stimuli, such as avoiding a predator or approaching a food source, with appropriate choices is critical for survival. There are two classes of motivated behaviors: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Although most animals are capable of learning to associate either positive or negative valence to environmental cues to help them thrive, we are only beginning to understand the neural circuit mechanisms governing the formation, retrieval or extinction of an associative memory.

When the neural circuits mediating reward processing, fear, motivation, memory or inhibitory control are perturbed, 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-occurrence, as patients diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are approximately twice as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.

The Approach

Kay Tye seeks to understand the neural-circuit basis of emotion that leads to motivated behaviors such as social interaction, reward-seeking and avoidance. Her lab employs a multidisciplinary approach including cellular-resolution recordings, behavioral assays and optogenetics, a technique that activates certain cells with light, to find mechanistic explanations for how these emotional and motivational states influence behavior in health and disease.

The Innovations and Discoveries

Pioneered use of projection-specific optogenetic manipulations for the study of neural circuits and behavior.

Discovered how distinct amygdala circuits can increase or decrease anxiety-related behavior and social interactions.

Discovered neural circuit mechanisms underlying compulsive reward-seeking behaviors (for sucrose, food, alcohol).

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BS, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Minor in Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD, Neuroscience, University of California at San Francisco