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Patricia Janak

Associative Learning and Addiction

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine

Neuroscientist Patricia Janak studies the biological basis of behavior and associative learning, with a particular focus on addiction.

During her high school years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, scientists were “just starting to understand how chemistry can affect our thinking and our mood,” she says. Fascinated, she signed up for all the college courses she could take in psychology and neuroscience.” It was the most fun thing that I was doing in college. This level of explanation—that how your brain functions is who you are—I wanted to learn more about that,” she says.

In psychology, she discovered animal models of behavior and learning, and examined the neural circuits that might be important to those patterns. In neuroscience, she studied how neural circuits operate and change, and investigated related behavior and learning models. The two disciplines, she says, “are now poised to bring it all together. We can combine psychology’s animal models of learning with the cutting-edge tools of neuroscience to really show how learning changes the brain.”

Janak studies those changes in both normal learning scenarios and in pathological learning, such as drug addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a perfect tie-in to her work in Johns Hopkins’ Science of Learning Institute, an ambitious, cross-disciplinary effort to accelerate science-to-practice translation along the continuum of learning, from basic research in molecules and genes to the creation of effective public school policy.

Janak teaches graduate courses in psychology and neuroscience, and an undergraduate class on learning and memory as well. She has plans to bring together faculty from Psychological and Brain Sciences and Neuroscience who are interested in learning and reward mechanisms, and she’s particularly excited about “the influx at Hopkins of top-notch younger scientists” in this field.

Janak received a BA in psychology and biology from Rutgers College and her Ph.D in biological psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. After postdoctoral positions at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Patricia joined the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco, as an Assistant Professor in 1999. She was appointed as Associate Professor in 2006, and named the Howard J. Weinberger Endowed Chair in Addiction Research at UCSF in 2011. She joined Johns Hopkins as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in 2014.

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