David Morilak




David Morilak, Ph.D.

Center for Biomedical Neuroscience Director, Professor of Pharmacology

Personal Statement:

We study the negative impact of stress, and mechanisms for better treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders. Our research addresses a) regulation and integration of the acute behavioral, cognitive and endocrine responses to stress; b) adaptive and maladaptive responses to chronic stress; and c) regulatory mechanisms of action of psychotherapeutic drugs and other types of therapeutic interventions, including behavioral therapies, and d) cognitive impairment after cancer therapy and its treatment. One focus of our research over the years has been on norepinephrine (NE), an important neuromodulatory transmitter that plays a critical role in the acute response to stress by enhancing arousal and sensorimotor response capabilities, and by integrating autonomic and endocrine responses with behavior. We study the modulation of behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to acute stress, and strategies to enhance higher-order cognitive processes mediated in the prefrontal cortex related to cognitive flexibility and coping behavior. Our techniques span the range from molecular, cellular and neural circuit to whole animal behavior and cognition. We study structural, functional and regulatory changes in prefrontal circuits that underly neuronal plasticity, the basis of both stress-induced pathology and therapeutic efficacy. Our work is relevant to understanding stress-related pathology underlying illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety disorders, and the beneficial effects of antidepressant and anxiolytic therapies. Experimental approaches include behavioral tests of cognition, arousal, anxiety and defensive responses; intracerebral drug microinjections; DiOlistic labeling with morphometric analysis of dendrites and spines; in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry and receptor autoradiography; radioimmunoassay for plasma hormone measures; electrophysiology to assess plasticity in ascending and descending corticolimbic circuits; viral-based chemo- and optogenetics, western blots, IP assays and other measures of protein regulation and signal transduction; and the application of chronic metabolic and psychogenic stressors.

Research Area/Field of Study: Neuroscience

Sub-Field of Study: Stress neurobiology, cognitive function, neural circuits, antidepressants, animal models, cognitive impairment after cancer treatment, novel therapeutics, prefrontal cortex

Associated Diseases: Depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, age-related cognitive impairment, cancer chemobrain

Techniques Used: Molecular biology (rt pcr, IP), biochemistry (western blots, ELISA, RIA), chemogenetics, optogenetics, electrophysiology, neuropharmacology, in situ hybridization, DiOlistic labeling, neuroanatomy, behavioral pharmacology, cognitive testing


1994 - Postdoctoral Research Associate - Molecular Neurobiology - Dept of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
1990 - Postdoctoral Fellowship - Autonomic Neuroscience - Flinders University Medical Centre, Australia
1986 - PhD - Neuroscience/Psychology - Princeton University
1984 - MA - Neuroscience/Psychology - Princeton University
1982 - BA - Psychology (with Honors, with Distinction, summa cum laude) - Muskingum College


• antidepressants • anxiety
• behavior • cognition
• depression • HPA axis
• in situ hybridization • microdialysis
• norepinephrine • PTSD
• stress

Awards & Accomplishments

2002 Elected Member, American College of NeuroPsychopharmacology (ACNP)

2006 Dean’s Award for Exceptional Graduate Teaching, UTHSCSA

2008 Elected Councilor, Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs (ANDP)

2012 Faculty Leadership Award, UTHSCSA Faculty Senate

2012 Promoted to Fellow, American College of NeuroPsychopharmacology (ACNP)

2013 President’s Council Faculty Scholar, UTHSCSA

2017 Quincy and Estine Lee Endowed Chair


  • Director – Center for Biomedical Neuroscience
  • Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Member
  • American College of NeuroPsychopharmacology (ACNP) Memebr
  • Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum (CINP) Member
  • Member, Mays Cancer Center, UTHSCSA, Experimental Therapeutics Program; 2016 – present
  • Research Health Scientist, South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS); 2017 – present


  • XXXI CINP World Congress – Vienna, Austria – June 16-19, 2018
    New insights into the role of orbitofrontal cortex in compulsive behavior, psychopathology and its treatment
  • Department of Neuroscience, Mount Sinai School of Medicine – New York NY – Nov 30, 2017
    Cognitive function in the rat medial prefrontal cortex: Models of pathology and therapeutic efficacy
  • Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, Giesel School of Medicine, Dartmouth University – Lebanon, NH – March 2, 2016
    Prefrontal cortical function in preclinical models of psychiatric pathology and novel therapeutics
  • 8th Annual Delaware Neuroscience Symposium – Delaware Biotechnology Institute – Newark, DE – December 4, 2015
    Facilitation and dysregulation in the medial prefrontal cortex – mechanisms for stress-related psychiatric disorders and their treatment
  • Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychology Program – University of Texas at Austin – Austin, TX – April 22, 2015
    Stress and cognition in the prefrontal cortex: Mechanisms of pathology and novel therapeutics