David Morilak, Ph.D.

Center for Biomedical Neuroscience, Director

Professor of Pharmacology

Ph.D., Princeton University

Office: 210-567-4174

Email: morilak@uthscsa.edu

View a video introduction to Dr. Morilak’s Lab>>

Research Interests

• antidepressants • anxiety
• behavior • cognition
• depression • HPA axis
• in situ hybridization                     • microdialysis
• norepinephrine • PTSD
• stress

Research Activities

We study the negative impact of stress, and mechanisms for better treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders. Our research addresses a) regulation and integration of the acute behavioral, cognitive and endocrine responses to stress; b) adaptive and maladaptive responses to chronic stress; and c) regulatory mechanisms of action of psychotherapeutic drugs and other types of therapeutic interventions, including behavioral therapies. One focus of our research over the years has been on norepinephrine (NE), an important neuromodulatory transmitter that plays a critical role in the acute response to stress by enhancing arousal and sensorimotor response capabilities, and by integrating autonomic and endocrine responses with behavior. We study the role of NE in modulating behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to acute stress, and enhancing higher-order cognitive processes mediated in the prefrontal cortex related to cognitive flexibility and coping behavior. Our techniques span the range from molecular, cellular and neural circuit to whole animal behavior and cognition. We study structural, functional and regulatory changes in prefrontal circuits that underly neuronal plasticity, the basis of both stress-induced pathology and therapeutic efficacy. Our work is relevant to understanding stress-related pathology underlying illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety disorders, and the beneficial effects of antidepressant and anxiolytic therapies. Experimental approaches include behavioral tests of cognition, arousal, anxiety and defensive responses; intracerebral drug microinjections; in vivo microdialysis to measure neurotransmitter release in behaving rats; in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry and receptor autoradiography; radioimmunoassay for plasma hormone measures; electrophysiology to assess plasticity in ascending and descending corticolimbic circuits; viral-based chemo- and optogenetics, western blots, IP assays and other measures of protein regulation and signal transduction; and the application of chronic metabolic and psychogenic stressors.


Accomplishments, Awards and Honors 

  • Fellow of the American College of NeuroPsychopharmacology (ACNP)
  • President’s Council Faculty Scholar Award – UTHSCSA – 2013
  • Quincy and Estine Lee Endowed Chair


Appointments, Boards, Committees and Memberships 

  • Director – Center for Biomedical Neuroscience
  • Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Member
  • American College of NeuroPsychopharmacology (ACNP) Memebr
  • Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum (CINP) Member


Lectures, Posters and Presentations 

XXXI CINP World Congress – Vienna, Austria – June 16-19, 2018

New insights into the role of orbitofrontal cortex in compulsive behavior, psychopathology and its treatment

Department of Neuroscience, Mount Sinai School of Medicine – New York NY – Nov 30, 2017

Cognitive function in the rat medial prefrontal cortex: Models of pathology and therapeutic efficacy

Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, Giesel School of Medicine, Dartmouth University – Lebanon, NH – March 2, 2016

Prefrontal cortical function in preclinical models of psychiatric pathology and novel therapeutics

8th Annual Delaware Neuroscience Symposium – Delaware Biotechnology Institute – Newark, DE – December 4, 2015

Facilitation and dysregulation in the medial prefrontal cortex – mechanisms for stress-related psychiatric disorders and their treatment

Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychology Program – University of Texas at Austin – Austin, TX – April 22, 2015

Stress and cognition in the prefrontal cortex: Mechanisms of pathology and novel therapeutics

Selected Publications


  • Fucich E.A., Paredes, D. Saunders M., Morilak D.A. (2018) Activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the therapeutic effects of extinction in rats. J Neurosci in press. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0635-17.2017. PubMed ID: 29335360 [Epub ahead of print]


See all publications>>


Research Group 

Milena Girotti, Ph.D.Asst. Professor/Research

Jing Liu, Ph.D.Instructor/Research

Sarah Bulin, Ph.D.Postdoctoral Fellow

Christina George, Research Assistant

Carlie McCartney, Research Assistant

Anna Rigodanzo, Research Assistant

Samantha Adler,  Neuroscience Graduate Student

Denisse Paredes, Neuroscience Graduate Student

Alexandra Sharp, Neuroscience Graduate Student