Mary Kay Lobo

2011 Regional Award Finalist — Post-Doc

Mary Kay Lobo

Current Position:
Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology

University of Maryland School of Medicine (Previously at Mount Sinai School of Medicine)


Recognized for: Her research on the role played bymedium spiny neurons- MSNs in drug abuse and depression

Areas of research interest and expertise:  Molecular neuroscience, neuroepigenetics, psychiatric disease, behavioral neuroscience


  • Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of California, Los Angeles
  • B.S., Biology, University of California, Los Angeles 

Dr. Lobo studies the distinct functional and geneticroles played by the two major subtypes of striatal neurons (medium spiny neurons- MSNs), and their converging basal ganglia and mesolimbic reward circuits, in mental illness. These two neurons are known to play opposing but balanced roles through their circuitry in the normal central nervous system. However, these circuits become dysfunctional and imbalanced in psychiatric diseases and neurological disorders including drug abuse and depression. Dr. Lobo’s lab investigates how these two neurons contribute to drug abuse and depression on a functional and molecular level and how each MSN influences downstream brain regions, also on a functional and molecular level in these diseases.

To investigate how these two neurons function in drug abuse and depression in the heterogeneous central nervous system Dr. Lobo and her team employ cutting edge cell-type and circuit selective techniques. They use optogenetic tools to selectively activate or inhibit either MSN subtype with optics to determine their selective roles in drug abuse or depression related behaviors. This is complimented with cell-type selective gene expression and epigenetic profiling to determine selective molecular adaptations in the two MSNs in psychiatric disease.

Her studies are beginning to unravel critical molecules in each MSN subtype that mediate the chronic and detrimental behaviors in drug abuse and depression, and will lead to a better understanding of the circuit wide effects of how these two neurons can influence downstream brain structures in these neuropsychiatric diseases. Through her research, Dr. Lobo and her team hope to find therapeutic candidate targets to treat these chronic mental illnesses.

"The long-term goal of my research is to uncover the underlying neurobiological mechanisms that mediate mental illnesses. Increased understanding of these neurobiological mechanisms can hopefully diminish the social stigma associated with mental illness and lead to new avenues of therapeutic treatment for these chronic, destructive diseases." 

Key Publications:

  1. Lobo MK, Zaman S, Damez-Werno D, Koo JW, Bagot R, DiNieri J, Nugent A, Finkel E, Chaudhury D, Chandra R, Riberio E, Rabkin J, Mouzon E, Cachope R, Cheer J, Han M-H, Dietz DM, Self D, Hurd Y, Vialou V, Nestler EJ (2013). DFosB Induction in Striatal Medium Spiny Neuron Subtypes in Response to Chronic Pharmacological, Emotional, and Optogenetic Stimuli. J Neurosci. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2013
  2. Chandra R, Lenz JD, Gancarz AM, Chaudhury D, Schroeder GL, Han MH, Cheer JF, Dietz DM, Lobo MK. Optogenetic inhibition of D1R containing nucleus accumbens neurons alters cocaine-mediated regulation of Tiam1. Front Mol Neurosci. 2013 
  3. Lobo MK1, Covington HE 3rd, Chaudhury D, Friedman AK, Sun H, Damez-Werno D, Dietz DM, Zaman S, Koo JW, Kennedy PJ, Mouzon E, Mogri M, Neve RL, Deisseroth K, Han MH, Nestler EJ. Cell type-specific loss of BDNF signaling mimics optogenetic control of cocaine reward.  Science. 2010 

Other Honors: 

2006 UCLA Dr. Eva Mary Kavan Prize for excellence in research on the brain
2011 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Travel Awardee
2013 Winter Conference on Brain Research Travel Awardee