Terry E. Robinson to present Henry Russel Lecture March 5


Renowned behavioral neuroscientist Terry E. Robinson will give the Henry Russel Lecture on March 5.

His lecture, titled “Rush to Reductionism: Lessons from Studies on the Neurobiology of Addiction,” will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Rackham Amphitheatre.

Terry Robinson

The Henry Russel Lectureship is considered U-M’s highest honor for senior members of active faculty. It is awarded annually to recognize a faculty member with exceptional achievements in research, scholarship or creative endeavors, as well as an outstanding record of distinguished teaching, mentoring and service to the university and wider communities.

This year, four faculty members also received the Henry Russel Award. They are:

• Justin Kasper, associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, College of Engineering.

• Becky Lorenz Peterson, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE.

• Daniel Rabosky, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and assistant curator of the Museum of Zoology, LSA.

• Paul Zimmerman, assistant professor of chemistry, LSA.

The Henry Russel Lecture will be posted to the U-M YouTube channel March 6.

Considered the university’s highest honor for early and mid-career faculty, the Henry Russel Award recognizes those who have demonstrated an extraordinary record of accomplishment in scholarly research or creativity, as well as an excellent record of contributions as a teacher.

Robinson, Elliot S. Valenstein Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and professor of psychology, LSA, is renowned for his path-breaking research on the effects of addictive drugs on the brain and behavior, including the persistent psychological and neurobiological consequences of repeated psychostimulant drug use, and the implications of these for addiction and relapse.

Among other contributions, he discovered the brain mechanisms by which normal reward-related processes go awry, contributing to drug addiction.

For his Russel Lecture, Robinson said he will emphasize how, “the reductionist trend in neuroscience these days is to very quickly launch detailed investigations as to the cells, circuits and molecules that mediate behavioral and psychological functions.”

“But one problem with this is that the cart is often put before the horse, in that mechanisms are sought for behavioral and psychological phenomena that themselves have not yet been well characterized,” he said. “That is, the behavioral or psychological side of the equation is often given short shrift in the rush to reductionism.”

Robinson said he will draw on examples from his own work, which focuses on the psychology and neurobiology of addiction, to discuss how mechanistic studies using popular animal models of addiction may be premature, given it is still unclear as to what behavioral procedures best capture the human situation.

Robinson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, a Master of Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan and a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. He joined the U-M faculty in 1978.

Robinson has demonstrated that drugs of abuse can produce changes in the brain that linger long after the last drug experience and may become permanent. These effects — called mesolimbic neural sensitization — can render the dopamine reward system persistently hyper-responsive to drugs and drug cues, contributing to relapse.

He determined the parameters necessary for dopamine sensitization to occur, where and how the brain changes, including changes in the anatomical structure of brain neurons, causing them to sprout new information-receiving dendritic spines. The implications of sensitization-related changes in the brain for addiction were proposed in a number of influential papers co-authored with Kent Berridge, James Olds Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of psychology, LSA.

Robinson’s 235 journal articles and book chapters have been cited more than 42,000 times, making him one of the most highly cited scientists in neuroscience. He has served on numerous National Institutes of Health grant review panels, and was editor-in-chief of the journal Behavioural Brain Research for 13 years.

Among his awards and recognitions, he has received a National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award, a National Institute on Drug Abuse Senior Scientist Award and Merit Award, the D.O. Hebb Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the European Behavioral Pharmacology Society, the William James Fellow Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Association for Psychological Science, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (with Kent Berridge) from APA, and an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Lethbridge.

Robinson spearheaded the development of U-M’s undergraduate major in brain, behavior and cognitive science and has directed U-M’s National Institute on Drug Abuse Training Program in Neuroscience for more than 20 years.


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