Aram Parsegian, Ph.D.

Research Investigator, Michigan Neuroscience Institute

Molecular & Behavioral Neurosci Inst
205 Zina Pitcher Place Rm 2014
Ann Arbor MI 48109-5720



I am eternally fascinated by the question, “but why?” and find no topic more exciting than the human brain and how it orchestrates motivation.


For over 17 years I have had the pleasure of studying, designing, and executing experiments aimed at elucidating the neurobiological underpinnings of affective disorders. My current research is mostly focused on understanding how individual differences contribute to the development of substance abuse disorder (a.k.a. drug addiction). Instead of assuming that all individuals develop a substance abuse disorder based on drug experience alone (not true), my research tries to elucidate how various antecedents (e.g., genetics, inherent affective phenotype) and consequences of various drug experiences (e.g., early age of onset, degree of drug experience) interplay to establish lifelong substance abuse problems. More specifically, I have been exploring epigenetics as a mechanistic interface between genetic predisposition and adolescent drug experience. 


Through collaborations within the Akil lab and MNI, I have used a combination of multidisciplinary approaches, including both molecular and behavioral techniques (e.g., drug self-administration paradigms), to better understand how certain neurobiological factors (e.g., striatal dopamine, neuropeptide, and opioid systems) contribute to the development of substance abuse disorder and trigger drug relapse. I use our bred High- and Low-responder rat model to investigate how these factors interface with divergent inborn affective stress phenotypes. 


I am also part of a team of researchers in the Akil and Watson laboratories deriving innovative approaches for visualizing and anatomically mapping multiple neurobiological cell types using 3-dimensional fluorescent multiplexing techniques (e.g., immunohistochemistry and hairpin chain-reaction fluorescent in situ hybridization) in the same thin or thick brain samples, comparing healthy and unhealthy post-mortem brains across several brain regions. We hope this research will provide much needed insight for identifying and understanding the contribution of individual differences to the development and expression affective disorders. We also hope this could one day help prescribe preventative measures for those most vulnerable to developing affective disorders and facilitate personalized treatments for those living with these pernicious, often devastating conditions. 


Outside of work, I enjoy being active outdoors (hiking, biking, running), playing Ultimate frisbee, playing or listening to music, and, of course, socializing with friends, colleagues or anyone who likes engaging in lively conversation; good beer helps!