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The España Lab Research

How Does Arousal Impact Motivated Behavior?

The laboratory employs a multidisciplinary approach to uncover the neural mechanisms involved in the regulation of arousal-related processes and motivated behavior in normal and pathological conditions.

In particular, we are interested in the extent to which noradrenergic, dopaminergic, and hypocretinergic systems orchestrate arousal and thereby influence sleep/wake function, stress and reward/reinforcement mechanisms.

Learn more about our techniques:

España Lab: Spontaneous DA release events observed in a resting mouse.

Dopamine and Norepinephrine

The laboratory has a longstanding interest in the involvement of monoaminergic signaling in the regulation of arousal-related processes. In particular, we are interested in the extent to which these neurotransmitters influence motivated behavior by modulating levels of arousal.

We are using fast scan cyclic voltammetry, and more recently fiber photometry to examine changes in dopamine and norepinephrine signaling across the sleep/wake cycle and in the context of substance abuse.

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Since 1998, we have been investigating the neurobiology of the hypocretin/orexin (HCRT) system, with a particular emphasis on its involvement in the regulation of sleep/wake processes, stress and motivated behaviors.

We are currently involved in a series of studies examining the importance of HCRT signaling in the regulation of reinforcement processes involving both natural and drug rewards.

España Lab: HCRT peptides exert rapid wake-promoting effects.
España Lab: Blockade of HCRT 1 receptors in the ventral tegmental area reduces dopamine responses to cocaine.
España Lab: Mice lacking HCRT peptides display reduced dopamine responses to cocaine.

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Sleep and Arousal

Appropriate regulation of arousal is critical for normal cognitive and affective function and for supporting motivated behavior. Research in the lab is focused on elucidating the arousal processes that underlie the regulation of motivation for drugs of abuse and the extent to which dopaminergic, noradrenergic, and hypocretinergic systems participate in these actions.

España Lab: Multiple neurotransmistter systems participate in the orchestration of arousal.
España Lab: Dopamine signaling can be measured during sleep/wake recordings.
España Lab: HCRT peptides exert rapid wake-promoting effects.

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Substance Abuse

Current projects on substance abuse focus on the involvement of hypocretin systems in the regulation of psychostimulant abuse and its effects on dopamine and norepinephrine signaling. The laboratory employs a variety of techniques including fast scan cyclic voltammetry, microdialysis, multi-electrode single unit electrophysiology, EEG/EMG recordings and a series of behavioral assays.

España Lab: Current projects on substance abuse.
España Lab: High affinity dopamine uptake blockers produced rapid onset uptake inhibition.

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Aberrant responses to environmental stimuli are at the root of stress and stress-related disorders. Research in the lab is focused on examining the dopaminergic and hypocretinergic processes that underlie susceptibility to stress as well as the co-occurrence of aberrant stress responses and substance use disorders.

España Lab: Data showing responses to environmental stimuli are at the root of stress and stress-related disorders.

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The laboratory uses a variety of research techniques to examine the neural correlates underlying the regulation of arousal and motivated behavior. These include:

  • Fast scan cyclic voltammetry
  • Multi-single unit electrophysiology
  • Fiber photometry
  • Self-administration techniques
  • Conditioned place preference
  • Startle response
  • Elevated plus maze
  • Locomotor activity monitoring
  • qPCR, westerns, immunohistochemistry
  • Genetic models


España Lab: Cocaine effects measured using voltammetry in a freely moving mouse.
España Lab: Depiction of voltammetry processes using carbon fiber electrodes.

Multi-Single Unit Recordings

España Lab: Simultaneous recordings of multiple hippocampal cells using the Plexon system.
España Lab: Perievent histograms depicting single cell activity prior to an operant response.


España Lab: Discrete trials schedules of reinforcement showing varying patterns of cocaine intake.
España Lab: Threshold schedule of reinforcement showing consumption and unit price (Pmax).

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Demon Voltammetry & Analysis

We developed fast scan cyclic voltammetry software to examine neurotransmitter release and uptake across various in vitro and in vivo preparations. The software is written in LabView language (National Instruments, Austin TX) and provides command voltage and stimulation generation as well as data acquisition and analysis capabilities. If you are interested in using the Demon Voltammetry and Analysis, you can obtain a Free Academic and Non-Profit License from the Office of Technology Asset Management at Wake Forest University Health Sciences. Request Free Academic and Non-Profit License.

Demon Voltammetry & Analysis

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Research image from The España Lab at Drexel University College of Medicine.