Melissa Sharpe: Principal Investigator

Mel graduated from the University of Sydney with a B.A. majoring in Psychology in 2009. In the fourth year of her undergraduate degree she worked with Ian Johnston assessing the impact of chemotherapy on cognition, finding specific deficits in the ability to use contextual cues to modulate learning and behavior following chemotherapy (Sharpe et al. 2012. Behavioral Brain Research).

Mel then went on to a PhD in Simon Killcross’ lab at the University of New South Wales. Here, she investigated the role of the prelimbic cortex in the contextual modulation of behavior, as well as the modulation of attention, in procedures involving learning about both rewarding and aversive events. The model that Mel and Simon developed across the course of her PhD is summarised in their recent manuscripts (Sharpe & Killcross, 2019, Psychological Review; Sharpe et al. 2020. Annual Review of Psychology).

In 2015, Mel then moved to the United States to begin a joint postdoc with Geoffrey Schoenbaum and Yael Niv, going between the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Princeton Neuroscience Insitute (PNI) on a regular basis. Here, she began to explore the role of dopamine in providing a teaching signal to regulate the development of learnt associations as distinct from a role for these neurons in assigning value to reward-paired stimuli (Sharpe et al. 2017. Nature Neuroscience; Sharpe et al. 2020. Nature Communications) At the same time, Mel developed a keen interest in the lateral hypothalamus in cognition, providing the first conclusive evidence that this nucleus is involved in learning about relationships between cues and rewards, and not just the innate drive to consume food (Sharpe et al. 2017. Current Biology). Here, she also showed that there is a dynamic interaction between the lateral hypothalamus and dopamine neurons in the midbrain to regulate these learned associations.

In 2018, Mel began her own lab in the psychology department at UCLA. Now, she wants to take a systems approach to her research, investigating how different neuronal regions interact together to form the basis of our learning experiences and how these processes go wrong in psychopathology.

Outside of work Mel enjoys spinning, socialising with her husband and friends, and travelling to new places around the world.


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Follow on Twitter: @MelissaJSharpe