Benjamin Saunders, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Benjamin Saunders

Contact Info

Office Phone +1 612-626-5198

Lab Address:
3-418 MTRF

Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience

PhD in Psychology/Biopsychology, 2012

MS, University of Michigan

BS in Biology/Psychology, West Virginia University, 2007



Neural circuits of motivation


Research Summary/Interests

Environmental cues, through their association with rewards, can acquire powerful control over motivation to spur and invigorate behavior. This process, while fundamental to survive, can go awry, leading to aberrant motivation that can underlie a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as addiction. The central goals of the Saunders Laboratory are to understand 1) how the brain generates and controls motivation during reward seeking, 2) how these processes are altered in disease states, and 3) why some individuals, but not others, develop motivational diseases. We utilize in a variety of techniques for mapping, controlling, and measuring the activity of neural circuits, including optogenetics, pharmacology, calcium imaging, and immunohistochemistry and microscopy, in rodents. These methods are integrated with detailed assessment of behavior in conditioning paradigms of natural (i.e., food) reward and drug seeking, to identify how brain circuits represent and control different components of motivation.


Zhang, N, Czepielewski, RS, Jarjour, NN, Erlich, EC, Esaulova, E, Saunders, BT, Grover, SP, Cleuren, AC, Broze, GJ, Edelson, BT, Mackman, N, Zinselmeyer, BH & Randolph, GJ 2019, ‘Expression of factor V by resident macrophages boosts host defense in the peritoneal cavity’ J Exp Med, vol. 216, no. 6, pp. 1291-1300.

Huang, LH, Zinselmeyer, BH, Chang, CH, Saunders, BT, Elvington, A, Baba, O, Broekelmann, TJ, Qi, L, Rueve, JS, Swartz, MA, Kim, BS, Mecham, RP, Wiig, H, Thomas, MJ, Sorci-Thomas, MG & Randolph, GJ 2019, ‘Interleukin-17 Drives Interstitial Entrapment of Tissue Lipoproteins in Experimental Psoriasis’ Cell Metab, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 475-487.e7.

Saunders, BT, Richard, J, Margolis, EB & Janak, PH 2018, 'Dopamine neurons create Pavlovian conditioned stimuli with circuit-defined motivational properties' Nature Neuroscience, vol. 21, no. 8, pp. 1072-1083.

Saunders, BT, Richard, J & Janak, PH 2015, 'Contemporary approaches to neural circuit manipulation and mapping: Focus on reward and addiction' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 370, no. 1677, 20140210.

Morrow, JD, Saunders, BT, Maren, S & Robinson, TE 2015, 'Sign-tracking to an appetitive cue predicts incubation of conditioned fear in rats' Behavioural Brain Research, vol. 276, pp. 59-66.

Steinberg, EE, Boivin, JR, Saunders, BT, Witten, IB, Deisseroth, K & Janak, PH 2014, 'Positive reinforcement mediated by midbrain dopamine neurons requires D1 and D2 receptor activation in the nucleus accumbens' PloS one, vol. 9, no. 4, e94771.

Saunders, BT & Janak, PH 2014, 'Nucleus accumbens plasticity underlies multifaceted behavioral changes associated with addiction' Biological Psychiatry, vol. 75, no. 2, pp. 92-93.

Robinson, TE, Yager, LM, Cogan, ES & Saunders, BT 2014, 'On the motivational properties of reward cues: Individual differences' Neuropharmacology, vol. 76, no. PART B, pp. 450-459.

Saunders, BT, O'Donnell, EG, Aurbach, EL & Robinson, TE 2014, 'A cocaine context renews drug seeking preferentially in a subset of individuals' Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 39, no. 12, pp. 2816-2823.

Saunders, BT & Robinson, TE 2013, 'Individual variation in resisting temptation: Implications for addiction' Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 37, no. 9, pp. 1955-1975.

Fitzpatrick, CJ, Gopalakrishnan, S, Cogan, ES, Yager, LM, Meyer, PJ, Lovic, V, Saunders, BT, Parker, CC, Gonzales, NM, Aryee, E, Flagel, SB, Palmer, AA, Robinson, TE & Morrow, JD 2013, 'Variation in the Form of Pavlovian Conditioned Approach Behavior among Outbred Male Sprague-Dawley Rats from Different Vendors and Colonies: Sign-Tracking vs. Goal-Tracking' PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 10, e75042.