Many of our actions feel automatic. Driving a familiar route to work 'on autopilot'is a common experience - as is taking a wrong turn when today's goal differs from the norm. This is an example of habit learning - a pattern of associations between stimuli and responses, or between patterns of thought, that is acquired over time and, once acquired, become stereotyped and requires effort to overcome. Dysregulation of such habit learning, and of the basal ganglia circuitry that underlies it, is central to obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and related disorders. The mechanisms of habit learning may be of importance to more than one psychiatric disorder. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the mechanisms of information processing and storage in the basal ganglia during striatum-dependent learning remains rudimentary. Targeted genetic manipulations in mice have been a useful tool in the analysis of other forms of learning. We have recently shown regulation by the transcription factor CREB to be critical in normal striatum- dependent learning, using transgenic mice in which CREB's function is specifically disrupted in the striatum. This study represents the first time, to our knowledge, that such specific targeting of the striatum in genetically modified mice has been used to probe the mechanisms of striatum-dependent learning. We now propose to build on this preliminary study through more refined behavioral assays, targeting subregions of the striatum using viral vectors, and characterizing downstream genes important in striatal information processing and storage. This approach takes advantage of my experience in the generation and behavioral analysis of genetically modified mice as well as other experimental approaches in which expertise exists in the Yale community. Clinical expertise in the Yale OCD Research Clinic and Child Study Center allows for a clinically informed research program that will aid me in my development towards independence as a researcher while advancing our understanding of psychiatric disorders in which maladaptive habits wreak havoc in patient's lives. This understanding will pave the way for therapies of the future.

Public Health Relevance

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder and a major cause of disability in America and worldwide. The neural circuitry that underlies it is involved in normal habit learning. We seek to understand the mechanisms of this habit learning and of OCD.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Clinical Investigator Award (CIA) (K08)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
Program Officer
Rosemond, Erica K
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Yale University
Schools of Medicine
New Haven
United States
Zip Code
Bloch, M H; Bartley, C A; Zipperer, L et al. (2014) Meta-analysis: hoarding symptoms associated with poor treatment outcome in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mol Psychiatry 19:1025-30
Anticevic, Alan; Hu, Sien; Zhang, Sheng et al. (2014) Global resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis identifies frontal cortex, striatal, and cerebellar dysconnectivity in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Biol Psychiatry 75:595-605
Castellan Baldan, Lissandra; Williams, Kyle A; Gallezot, Jean-Dominique et al. (2014) Histidine decarboxylase deficiency causes tourette syndrome: parallel findings in humans and mice. Neuron 81:77-90
Quinn, Jennifer J; Pittenger, Christopher; Lee, Anni S et al. (2013) Striatum-dependent habits are insensitive to both increases and decreases in reinforcer value in mice. Eur J Neurosci 37:1012-21
Niciu, Mark J; Grunschel, Beth D G; Corlett, Philip R et al. (2013) Two cases of delayed-onset suicidal ideation, dysphoria and anxiety after ketamine infusion in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a history of major depressive disorder. J Psychopharmacol 27:651-4
Scheinost, D; Stoica, T; Saksa, J et al. (2013) Orbitofrontal cortex neurofeedback produces lasting changes in contamination anxiety and resting-state connectivity. Transl Psychiatry 3:e250
Hampson, Michelle; Stoica, Teodora; Saksa, John et al. (2012) Real-time fMRI biofeedback targeting the orbitofrontal cortex for contamination anxiety. J Vis Exp :
Bloch, Michael; State, Matthew; Pittenger, Christopher (2011) Recent advances in Tourette syndrome. Curr Opin Neurol 24:119-25
Pittenger, Christopher (2011) Pathophysiological modeling of obsessive-compulsive disorder: challenges, and progress. Biol Psychiatry 70:1002-3
Pittenger, Christopher (2011) Epigenetic modification of the BDNF locus by early-life enrichment: towards a molecular correlate of resilience? Neurosci Lett 495:165-7

Showing the most recent 10 out of 16 publications