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Hitoshi Morikawa

Associate Professor
Department of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry

M. June and J. Virgil Waggoner Professorships in Molecular Biology

Neurobiology of reward learning and addiction


Phone: 512-232-9299

Office Location
PAT 402A

Postal Address
AUSTIN, TX 78712

The Morikawa lab is currently recruiting postdocs.  Click here for more information and to apply.

After obtaining an M.D. from Kyoto University in Japan in 1990 and completing his clinical training in anesthesiology, Dr. Morikawa became interested in basic research. After obtaining a Ph.D in the field of anesthesiology & neuropharmacology in 1999, Dr. Morikawa joined John Williams’ lab at the Vollum Institute in Portland, Oregon, with a naive intention to define the brain circuit involved in the euphoric action of drugs of abuse. He moved to UT Austin as a faculty in 2002 after 3 years of postdoctoral training. His current interest focuses on the reward learning mechanisms driving the development of addicitive behaviors.

The primary focus of Morikawa lab is to investigate neural plasticity in the mesostriatal dopaminergic system underlying reward-based learning and the development of addiction. We are particularly interested in the cellular mechanisms driving calcium-dependent regulation of neuronal activity and plasticity. Using brain slice electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and UV photolysis of caged compounds, my lab has been conducting studies investigating the role of calcium signaling in regulating physiology and plasticity of neurons in the mesostriatal dopaminergic system. We have also implemented behavioral assays (e.g., conditioned place preference, food conditioned approach, etc.) combined with stereotaxic injection of pharmacological agents and viruses to manipulate specific brain areas. In this way, we aim to link specific signaling processes at the cellular and molecular level to learning processes and addictive behavior in behaving animals. Our latest interest is on the impact of daily life experience (stress, diet, exercise, etc.) on these processes to determine the risk factors and therapeutic strategies for neuropyschiatric conditions arising from dysregulation of the dopaminergic system, such as addiction, schizophrenia, and depression. 

2020 Papini S, Young CC, Gebhardt CS, Perrone A, Morikawa H, Otto MW, Roache JD, Smits AJ, Isradipine enhancement of virtual reality cue exposure for smoking cessation: Rationale and study protocol for a double-blind randomized controlled trial.  Contemporary Clinical Trials 94:106013.

2019 Pomrenze MB, Tovar-Diaz J, Blasio A, Maiya R, Giovanetti SM, Lei K, Morikawa H, Hopf FW, Messing RO, A corticotropin releasing factor network in the extended amygdala for anxiety. J Neurosci 39:1030-1043.

2018 Tovar-Diaz J, Pomrenze MB, Kan R, Pahlavan B, Morikawa H, Cooperative CRF and α1 adrenergic signaling in the VTA promotes NMDA plasticity and drives social stress enhancement of cocaine conditioning, Cell Reports 22:2756-2766

2018 Gantz S, Ford CP, Morikawa H, Williams JT, The evolving understanding of dopamine neurons in the Substantia Nigra and Ventral Tegmental Area, Annu Rev Physiol 80:219-241

2017 Cook JB, Hendrickson LM, Garwood GM, Toungate KM, Nania CV, Morikawa H, Junk Food Diet-Induced Obesity Increases D2 Receptor Autoinhibition in the Ventral Tegmental Area and Reduces Ethanol Drinking. PLoS One 12:e0183685

2017 Ponomarev I, Stelly CE, Morikawa H, Blednov YA, Mayfield RD, Harris RA, Mechanistic insights into epigenetic modulation of ethanol consumption, Alcohol 60:95-101

2016 Stelly CE, Pomrenze MB, Cook JB, Morikawa H, Repeated social defeat stress enhances glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the VTA and cocaine place conditioning, eLife 5:e15448

2016 Swapna I, Bondy B, Morikawa H, Differential dopamine regulation of Ca2+ signaling and its timing dependence in the nucleus accumbens, Cell Reports 15: 563-573

2016 Degoulet M, Stelly CE, Ahn KC, Morikawa H, L-type Ca2+ channel blockade with antihypertensive medication disrupts VTA synaptic plasticity and drug-associated contextual memory, Mol Psychiatry 21: 394-402

2013 Clements MA, Swapna I, Morikawa H, Inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate drives glutamatergic and cholinergic inhibition selectively in spiny projection neurons in the striatum, J Neurosci 33: 2697-2708

2013 Whitaker LR, Degoulet M, Morikawa H, Social deprivation enhances VTA synaptic plasticity and drug-induced contextual learning, Neuron 77: 335-345

2012 Cui C, Noronha A, Morikawa H, Alvarez VA, Stuber GD, Szumlinski KK, Kash TL, Roberto M, Wilcox MV, New insights on neurobiological mechanisms underlying alcohol addiction, Neuropharmacology 67: 223-232 

2012 Beatty JA, Sullivan MA, Morikawa H, Wilson CJ , Complex autonomous firing patterns of striatal low-threshold spike interneuron, J Neurophysiol 108: 771-781

2011 Morikawa H, Paladini CA, Dynamic regulation of midbrain dopamine neuron activity: Intrinsic, synaptic, and plasticity mechanisms, Neuroscience 198: 95-111 

2011 Bernier BE, Whitaker LR, Morikawa H, Previous ethanol experience enhances synaptic plasticity of NMDA receptors in the ventral tegmental area, J Neurosci 31: 5205-5212

2011 Blednov YA, Benavidez JM, Geil C, Perra S, Morikawa H, Harris RA, Activation of inflammatory signaling by lipopolysaccharide produces a prolonged increase of voluntary alcohol intake in mice, Brain Behav Immun 25: S92-S105 

2011 Morikawa H, Harris RA, Small K channels: Big targets for treating alcoholism?, Biol Psychiatry 69: 614-615

2011 Perra S, Clements MA, Bernier BE, Morikawa H, In vivo ethanol experience increases D2 autoinhibition in the ventral tegmental area, Neuropsychopharmacology 36: 993-1002 

2011 Theile JW, Morikawa H, Gonzales RA, Morrisett RA, GABAergic transmission modulates ethanol excitation of ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons, Neuroscience 172: 94-103

2010 Morikawa H, Morrisett RA, Ethanol action on dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area: interaction with intrinsic ion channels and neurotransmitter inputs, Int Rev Neurobiol 91: 235-288

2010 Ahn KC, Bernier BE, Harnett MT, Morikawa H, IP3 receptor sensitization during in vivo amphetamine experience enhances NMDA receptor plasticity in dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area, J Neurosci 30: 6689-6699

2009 Harnett MT, Bernier BE, Ahn KC, Morikawa H, Burst timing-dependent plasticity of NMDA receptor-mediated transmission in midbrain dopamine neurons, Neuron 62: 826-838

2009 Theile JW, Morikawa H, Gonzales RA, Morrisett RA, Role of 5-HT2C receptors in Ca2+-dependent ethanol potentiation of GABA release onto ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons, J Pharmacol Exp Ther 329: 625-633

2008 Sullivan MA, Chen H, Morikawa H, Recurrent inhibitory network among striatal cholinergic interneurons, J Neurosci 27: 8682-8690

2008 Theile JW, Morikawa H, Gonzales RA, Morrisett RA , Ethanol enhances GABAergic transmission onto dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the rat, Alcohol Clin Exp Res 32: 1040-1048

2007 Cui G, Bernier BE, Harnett MT, Morikawa H, Differential regulation of action potential- and metabotropic glutamate receptor-induced Ca2+ signals by inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate in dopamine neurons, J Neurosci 27: 4776-4785

2006 Ponomarev I, Maiya R, Harnett MT, Schafer GL, Ryabinin AE, Blednov YA, Morikawa H, Boehm SL II, Homanics GE, Berman A, Lodowski KH, Bergeson SE, Harris RA, Transcriptional signatures of cellular plasticity in mice lacking the alpha1 subunit of GABAA receptors, J Neurosci 26: 5673-5683

2006 Okamoto T, Hanett MT, Morikawa H, Hyperpolarization-activated cation current (Ih) is an ethanol target in midbrain dopamine neurons of mice, J Neurophysiol 95: 619-626

2004 Cui G, Okamoto T, Morikawa H, Spontaneous opening of T-type Ca2+ channels contributes to the irregular firing of dopamine neurons in neonatal rats, J Neurosci 24: 11079-11087

  • 1994 – 1997 Japan Scholarship Foundation Predoctoral Scholarship, Cellular and molecular investigation of opioid receptors
  • 1998 – 1999 Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, Cellular and molecular mechanism of opioid tolerance
  • 1999 – 2000 Uehara Memorial Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, Opioid action on midbrain dopamine neurons