Milena Girotti


Location: Morilak Lab



Milena Girotti, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor/Research

Personal Statement:

Personal statement
The focus of my research is to determine how stress impacts orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) function leading to aberrant behavior and psychopathology.

The OFC is a brain region that regulates higher order executive functions including the ability to control impulsive choices and actions (impulsivity) and the ability to modify behavior in the face of a change in the environment (cognitive flexibility). In the clinic many psychiatric conditions, ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, present with decreased OFC functionality.  Moreover, OFC impairments in impulse control and cognitive flexibility are greatly affected by chronic stress. One problem currently faced by the neuropsychiatric clinic is that deficits in executive function are difficult to treat with existing medications or non-pharmacological interventions. This is likely due to a poor understanding of the neurobiology underlying these complex behaviors. Thus, one goal of my research is to improve our conception of OFC connectivity and function, and how this is altered by stress, in the hope to provide a platform for the development of future therapeutics.
Some of the specific questions I am interested in are:

  • Explore which circuits are involved in OFC-depended behaviors and how they are impacted by stress.
  • Determine whether flexibility and impulse control are modulated by overlapping or separate anatomical regions of the OFC.
  • Determine what molecular events are involved in impulse control and cognitive flexibility and how stress impacts these signals.



Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry
University of Bristol
Bristol, England, U.K.


• impulse control • JAK2 signaling
• stress • orbitofrontal
• mood disorders • cognitive flexibility

Awards & Accomplishments

CBN pilot grant – Girotti(PI) – Effect of stress on the trajectory of age-dependent cognitive decline (2017-2018)
NIH-NIMH R21 – Girotti (PI) Morilak (Co-I) – A novel role for IL6/STAT3 signaling in orbitofrontal cortex in reversal learning (2013-2015)
CBN Pilot Grant – Girotti (PI) – Investigating the cross-talk between norepinephrine signaling and interleukin 6 pathway in neuronal cell lines (2014-2015)
NARSAD Young Investigator Grant Award (2013-2015)


Member of the Society for Neuroscience – 2004 to present


Lectures and Presentations
Society for Biological Psychiatry, 67th Annual Scientific Convention – Philadelphia, PA – Spring 2013
Williamson, DE., Ramage, AE., Girotti, M., Morilak, DE., Olivera, RL., Walss-Bass, C.
Stress-Induced Increases in Inflammation are Associated with White Matter Integrity and Increased Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Males (Oral Presentation)
Catecholamine Research in the 21st Century: Abstracts and Graphical Abstracts, 10th International Catecholamine Symposium – Oxford, UK – Fall 2012
Morilak, DA., Bingham, B., Donegan, JJ., Girotti M., Jett, JD.
Jekyll and Hyde: Noradrenergic modulation in acute and chronic stress. In L. Eiden (Ed.) Elsevier, p. 247
17th Annual Pharmacology Graduate Student Symposium – San Antonio, TX – Fall 2010
Girotti, M. Effects of chronic intermittent cold stress on the profile of inflammatory signals following acute immune and non-immune challenges in the rat brain (Oral Presentation)


Girotti M, Adler SM, Bulin SE, Fucich EA, Paredes D, Morilak DA. Prefrontal cortex executive processes affected by stress in health and disease. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018 Jul 13;85:161-179. Review.
Patton MS, Lodge DJ, Morilak DA, Girotti M. Ketamine Corrects Stress-Induced Cognitive Dysfunction through JAK2/STAT3 Signaling in the Orbitofrontal Cortex. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 May;42(6):1220-1230.
Donegan, JJ., Patton, MS., Chavera, TS., Berg, KA., Morilak, DA. and Girotti, M. (2015) Interleukin-6 attenuates serotonin 2a receptor signaling by activating the JAK-STAT pathway Mol Pharmacol Mar;87(3):492-500
Donegan, JJ., Girotti, M., Weinberg, MS. and Morilak, DA. (2014) A novel role for brain interleukin-6: facilitation of cognitive flexibility in rat orbitofrontal cortex. J Neurosci. Jan 15;34(3):953-62
Girotti, M., Donegan, JJ. and Morilak, DA. (2013) Influence of hypothalamic IL-6/gp130 receptor signaling on the HPA axis response to chronic stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology Jul;38(7):1158-69; Epub 2012 Dec 4
Girotti, M., Donegan, JJ. and Morilak, DA. (2011) Chronic intermittent cold stress sensitizes neuro-immune reactivity in the rat brain. Psychoneuroendocrinology Sep;36(8):1164-74
Bhaskaran, S., Butler, JA., Becerra, S., Fassio, V. and Girotti, M.. (2011) Breaking Caenorhabditis elegans the easy way using the Balch homogenizer: an old tool for a new application. Anal Biochem. Jun 15;413(2):123-32
Selected Abstracts
Girotti, M., Patton, MS., Donegan, JJ. and Morilak, DA. Ketamine corrects reversal learning deficits induced by chronic intermittent cold stress – possible involvement of JAK/STAT3 Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference – Washington, D.C. – Fall 2014
Donegan, JJ., Girotti, M., Chavera, TS., Patton, MS., Berg, KA. and Morilak, DA. IL-6 attenuates serotonin 2A receptor signaling through the JAK/STAT pathway Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference – Washington, D.C. – Fall 2014
Girotti, M., Donegan, JJ., Fucich, EA., Morilak, DA. Ketamine restores active coping behavior after stress in the rat defensive burying test Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference – San Diego, CA. – Fall 2013
Donegan, JJ., Girotti, M. and Morilak, DA. Orbitofrontal IL-6 and JAK-STAT signaling attenuate stress-induced reversal learning deficits in the rat Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference – San Diego, CA. – Fall 2013
Lodge, DA., Carreno, F., Shah, A., Jett, J., Girotti, M., Delgado, P., Morilak, D., Frazer, A. Neuronal systems underlying the antidepressant response of ketamine American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Meeting – Hollywood, FL – Winter 2012