Button to scroll to the top of the page.
Marinelli, Michela (Micky)

Michela Marinelli

Associate Professor, Other University Affiliate - Pharmacy
Department of Neuroscience, Department of Neurology

neuroscience of addiction and motivation


Phone: 512-471-0080

Office Location
HDB 5.318

Postal Address
AUSTIN, TX 78712

Our main research projects focus on understanding the biological bases of addiction. We use a combination of models that are associated with increased addiction liability, such as that associated with age (i.e. adolescence), naturally-occurring within outbred populations (i.e. inter-individual differences), or induced by exposure to drugs and to stress. Throughout our studies, we use a systems-approach, combining complementary levels of analysis, which include molecular (protein expression), cellular (neuronal activity and synaptic transmission using in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology), anatomical (optogenetics and functional neuroanatomy), and behavioral studies (self-administration). By combining these levels of analysis, it is possible to answer questions of behavioral relevance at multiple levels, in the hope of gaining more insight on the mechanisms and treatment strategies for addiction.


Additional projects include:

Simple and common errors in published data (e.g. Simpson’s paradox, error selecting data, use of wrong formulas to compute simple functions)

Exploring alternatives to restraints and seclusions in school and psychiatric settings, and the lack of evidence for use of currently employed “de-escalation” techniques.


McCutcheon JE, Wang X, Tseng KY, Wolf ME, Marinelli M. Calcium-permeable AMPA receptors are present in nucleus accumbens synapses after prolonged withdrawal from cocaine self-administration but not experimenter-administered cocaine. J Neurosci (2011) 31:5737-5743.

McCutcheon JE, Loweth JA, Ford KA, Marinelli M, Wolf ME, Tseng KY. Group I mGluR activation reverses cocaine-induced accumulation of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors in nucleus accumbens synapses via a protein kinase C-dependent mechanism. J Neurosci (2011) 31:14536-14541.

McCutcheon JE, Conrad KL, Carr SB, Ford KA, McGehee DS, Marinelli M. Dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area fire faster in adolescent rats than in adults. J Neurophysiol (2012) 108:1620-1630.

Wong WC, Ford KA, Pagels NE, McCutcheon JE, Marinelli M. Adolescents are more vulnerable to cocaine addiction: behavioral and electrophysiological evidence. J Neurosci (2013) 33:4913-4922.

Wang X, Cahill ME, Werner C, Christoffel D, Golden S, Xie Z, Loweth J, Marinelli M, Russo S, Penzes P, Wolf ME. Kalirin-7 mediates cocaine-induced AMPA receptor and spine plasticity, enabling incentive sensitization. J Neurosci (2013) 33:11012-11022.

Marinelli M, McCutcheon JE. Heterogeneity of dopamine neuron activity across traits and states. Neurosci (2014) 282:176-197

Wong WC, Marinelli M. Adolescent-onset of cocaine use is associated with heightened stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking. Addiction Biol (2016) 21:634-645.


Hankosky ER, Westbrook SR, Haake RM, Marinelli M, Gulley JM. Reduced sensitivity to reinforcement in adolescent compared to adult Sprague-Dawley rats of both sexes. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2018 Mar; 235(3): 861–871. 


Gordon-Fennel AG, Will RG, Ramachandra V, Gordon-Fennell LJ, Dominguez JM, Zahm DS, Marinelli M. The lateral preoptic area: a novel regulator of reward seeking and neuronal activity in the ventral tegmental area. Frontiers in Neurosci (2020) 13:1-17.


Gordon-Fennel AG, Gordon-Fennel LJ, Marinelli M. The lateral preoptic area and its projection to the ventral tegmental area regulate the activity of neurons in the ventral tegmental area and drive paradoxical reward behaviors (2020) 14:1-71.

"Texas 10" award
This award is given to the 10 most inspiring professors at UT Austin (nominated by alumni and selected by the Alcalde magazine. These are professors that their former students, upon reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, consider having made a lasting impact on their lives). https://www.texasexes.org/about-us/awards/texas-10 https://medium.com/the-alcalde/introducing-the-2020-texas-ten-b4dadc2c0eb3

“The Craving Brain: A Conversation about Vulnerability to Drug Addiction” - UT Brainstorms 2018



"Adolescence, stress, and punishment" - Youth Substance Misuse & Addiction pop-up institute


Undergraduate courses

2019-now       NEU 377, Analytical skepticism
Topics: Seeing, quantifying, and presenting data, Cognitive illusions, Scientific bias, Approaches to testing a hypothesis (experimental design), Assessing probabilities, Quantifying and analyzing data, Normalizing data
Role: Course creator, director, and instructor  (check out award for this course)
(3 h/wk, undergraduate students, mostly from the Neuroscience program)


2014-now       UGS 302 & UGS 303 Young people and drugs
Topics: animal models of addiction, factors that enhance vulnerability to addiction
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. L. Holleran)
(~3 h/yr, first year undergraduate students from various Colleges).


2014-now       NEU 365W, Neurobiology of addiction
Topics: Psychostimulants, and (from 2019) animal models of addiction and principles in pharmacology
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. R.A. Harris (2014-2019), Dr. R.O. Messing(2020), Dr. J. Mihic (2021))
(~3-6 h/yr, undergraduate students from various Colleges)


2018              NEU 335, Neural systems II
Topic: Drug addiction
Role: instructor (Course director: Dr. B. Zemelman)
(2 h/yr, undergraduate students in the Neuroscience program)


Upper-division courses (College of Pharmacy, College of Natural Sciences, Dell Medical School)

2020              PGY1 Adult Psychiatry Curriculum
Topic: Basics of evidence
Role: lecturer (Course director: Dr. S. Kotara)
(~4 h/yr, 1st year Psychiatry Residents from Dell Medical School)


2020              MS3 ILD Innovation, Leadership, and Discovery, Research Distinction Track
Topic: Research design
Role: lecturer (Course directors: Dr. S. Cox, Dr. B. Nelson)
(~6 h/yr, 3rd year medical student from Dell Medical School)


2020              NEU 185 and PGS 185 Responsible conduct of science
Topic: Data management
Role: guest lecturer (Course director: Dr. R.A. Gonzales)
(~1.5 h/yr, graduate student from various Colleges)


2020              NEU 394P, Career development for neuroscientists
Topic: The Academic System: Who is hired?
Role: guest lecturer (Corse director: Dr. R.A. Harris)
(~1.5 h/yr, graduate students and senior undergraduate students from various Colleges)


2016-2019      PHM 480C, Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Drug Targets
Topics: Seizures, Parkinson’s Disease, dementias, schizophrenia, addiction, anxiety, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, compare and contrast neurological and psychiatric disorders, case studies
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. C. Van Den Berg)
(7 h/yr, PharmD students from the College of Pharmacy)


2017              S2017IPE Foundations for Inter-Professional Collaborative Practice
Topics: small-group collaborative exercises on Motivational interviewing, Addiction care,
Error disclosure, Palliative care, applying TeamSTEPPS to transitions of care,
Inter-professional collaborative practice
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. V. Young)
(~18 h/yr, Medical, PharmD, Nursing, and Social Work students)


2016-2017      NEU 482T Principles in Neuroscience
Topic: Neuropharmacology
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. D. Brager)
(~2 h/yr, PhD students from the Institute for Neuroscience)


2015-2016      NEU 482T Principles in Neuroscience. Topic: Grant writing
Role: Instructor (Course director: Dr. D. Brager)
(~8 h/yr, PhD students from the Institute for Neuroscience)


2014-2017      PGS 388K & NEU 385L, Pharmacological mechanisms of addiction
Topics: Animal models, Sedatives, Alcohol, Psychostimulants, Inhalants and solvents, Cannabinoids, Nicotine, Opioids, Hallucinogens, Genetics & Genomics, Medications and treatment, Hot topics
Role: Course co-director and instructor (with Dr. R.O. Messing)
(~3 h/week, PhD students from the Pharmacology and Toxicology, Institute for Neuroscience, or Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology Programs).


2014-2017      PGS 388K, PGS 380S, Principles in Experimental Design & Biostatistics
Topics: Cognitive illusions, Experimental design theory and practice, Why we need statistics, Describing & presenting data (written, graph, oral), Introduction to statistics (focus on ANOVA, Chi Square, Confidence intervals, Pearson and Spearman Correlations, Power analysis), Normalizing data theory and practice, Brief notions on Multivariate analysis
Role: Course creator, director, and instructor
(60-65 h/yr, first and second year graduate students from the Pharmacology and Toxicology, Biomedical Engineering, Nutrition, or Institute for Neuroscience Programs).


2013-2016      PGS 478Q, Oral and Written Communication for Scientists
Topics: Scientific manuscripts (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion), Oral presentations (style and content) for lay or scientific audiences
Role: Course co-director and instructor (with Dr. C.K. Erickson)
(4h/week PhD and MS students from different programs).


2016              PHM 685F, Pharmacotherapeutics III.
Topics: Surgical & pain, psychiatry, neurology, oncology
Role: Course director for 14 faculty across 4 UT sites
(6h/week; PharmD students across 4 UT sites: Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley)