Ilana B. Witten, Ph.D.

Ilana B. Witten, Ph.D.
Ilana B. Witten, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience Institute

Princeton University

2017 Freedman Prizewinner for Exceptional Basic Research

2014 Young Investigator

Ilana B. Witten, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University.

Her lab at Princeton works on interrogating the neural circuitry that supports reward learning and decision making. In particular, Dr. Witten’s work, including her Young Investigator Grant “Dopamine, Working Memory, and Schizophrenia: Dissecting Spatiotemporal Dynamics,” has focused on the role of dopamine in cognition. Dopamine dysfunction is implicated in a wide range of neurobiological disorders, including addiction, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia.

How can dopamine contribute to so many diverse conditions? A central hypothesis that the Witten Lab investigates is that dopamine neurons that project to different parts of the brain encode different information with different temporal properties, and are therefore involved in different aspects of cognition and behavior.

Dopamine has long been known to contribute to working memory, which is the cognitive ability to remember and manipulate information for several seconds. Perhaps because of this important role in working memory, dysfunction in dopamine transmission results in debilitating brain diseases. For example, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and ADHD are characterized in part by deficits in working memory, which are thought to be related to the dopaminergic imbalances that characterize these disorders. The research team in Dr. Witten’s lab has helped to clarify the mechanisms by which dopamine may contribute to the working memory deficits in these disorders. Specifically, by investigating the importance of the spatial and temporal dynamics of activity in the dopamine system, Dr. Witten and colleagues may 14 help explain why pharmacological modulation of the dopamine system, which does not allow for spatially and temporally precise control of dopaminergic signaling, has not been effective in alleviating working memory deficits in clinical populations. This insight could in turn guide and inspire more effective future treatments that involve more spatially and/or temporally precise dopamine interventions.

Dr. Witten graduated from Princeton University with an A.B. in Physics in 2002, and received her Ph.D. in Neurosciences from Stanford University in 2008. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Scientific Council Member Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D. in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford, where she developed and applied optogenetic tools to dissect the neuromodulatory control of reward behavior in rodents.

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