Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Motivated behaviors fall into two valences: Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The ability to select appropriate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, such as avoiding a predator or approaching a food source, is critical for survival. Although most animals are capable of learning to assign either positive or negative associations to environmental cues, we are only beginning to understand the underlying neural circuits and the plasticity that mediates the formation, revision or extinction of an associative memory.
How is emotional or motivational significance assigned to environmental cues?
Where do the circuits processing associative information diverge to differentially encode positive and negative valence?
When there are perturbations in the neural circuits mediating reward processing, fear, motivation, memory or inhibitory control, we may observe a number of disease states such as substance abuse, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and depression. These are among the most prevalent neuro-psychiatric disorders, and show a high rate of co-morbidity with each other, as patients diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are approximately twice as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.
Do perturbations in common neural circuits processing motivation, memory or affective valence underlie this high-rate of co-morbidity? Can emotional states such as increased anxiety alter a given experience and increase the propensity for substance abuse by facilitating long-term changes associated with reward-related learning? If so, what is the mechanism?
The Tye lab employs an interdisciplinary approach including optogenetics, electrophysiology, pharmacology and imaging techniques to find a mechanistic explanation for how emotional and motivational states can influence learning and behavior, in both health and disease. In addition to scientific excellence and integrity, top values of the Tye Laboratory include mentorship, collaboration, innovation and above all, a positive mental attitude.
Kay M. Tye received her bachelor’s degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT in 2003, and earned her PhD in 2008 at UCSF with Patricia Janak. Her thesis work was supported by the National Science Foundation and recognized with the Lindsley Prize in Behavioral Neuroscience as well as the Weintraub Award in Biosciences. She completed her postdoctoral training with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University in 2011, with support from an NRSA from NIMH. She joined the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and The Picower Institute at MIT in 2012, and has since been recognized with the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, Technology Review’s Top 35 Innovators under 35, and has been named a Whitehall, Klingenstein and Sloan Foundation Fellow.
- 2013-2018 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award ($1.5M direct costs over 5 years)
- 2014-2015 Sloan Research Fellow, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
- 2014 TR35, Technology Review’s Top 35 Innovators Under 35