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Stephen Maren

Steve Maren
Charles H. Gregory '64 Chair in Liberal Arts
University Distinguished Professor & Regents Professor
Areas of Speciality
  • Affective Science
  • Behavioral & Cellular Neuroscience
  • (979) 458-7960
  • ILSB 3200B
Professional Links
Office Hours, Spring 2024

Research Interests

  • Neural systems for emotion, learning, and memory
  • Contextual regulation of memory encoding and retrieval
  • Fear, anxiety, PTSD

Memories for emotional, particularly fearful, events are vivid, visceral, and enduring. Emotional memories enable us to predict and avoid potential threats, as well as respond to immediate danger. But dysfunction in this system can result in anxiety, panic and post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. Anxiety disorders are the among the most prevalent psychiatric illnesses in the world, affecting nearly one-third of the population. Research in my laboratory seeks to understand the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying the encoding, storage, retrieval, and extinction of aversive memories, and how dysfunction in these circuits and processes contributes to anxiety disorders. We focus on the neurobiology of fear conditioning and extinction in rats and mice. The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex, a triad of interconnected brain areas with essential roles in memory and emotion, are critical for these processes. We use both behavioral and systems neuroscience methods to understand the brain mechanisms of fear and anxiety. These approaches include reversible brain lesions, intracranial pharmacology, electrophysiology, and immunohistochemistry.

Dr. Maren is a recipient of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology (2001) and the D. O. Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award (2017).  He is also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science, Past-President of the Pavlovian Society, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Behavioural Brain Research. He has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1995 and is a recipient of the 2015 McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders award.

Recent Publications

Giustino, T. F., Ramanathan, K. R., Totty, M. S., Miles, O. W., Maren, S. (2020). Locus coeruleus norepinephrine drives stress-induced increases in basolateral amygdala firing and impairs extinction learning. Journal of Neuroscience, Dec 4. pii: 1092-19. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1092-19.2019 (Epub ahead of print).

Goode, T. D., Acca, G. M., and Maren, S. (2020). Threat imminence dictates the role of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals in contextual fear. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 167:107116. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2019.107116.

Haaker, J., Maren, S., Andreatta, M., Merz, C. J., Richter, J., Richter, H. S., Drexler, S. M., Lange, M, Jüngling, K, Nees, F., Seidenbecher, T., Fullana., M. A., Wotjak, C. and Lonsdorf, T. B. (2019). Making translation work: Harmonizing cross-species methodology in the behavioural neuroscience of
Pavlovian fear conditioning. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 107:329-345. doi: 10.1016/ j.neubiorev.2019.09.020.

Ramanathan, K. R. and Maren, S. (2019). Nucleus reuniens mediates the extinction of contextual fear conditioning. Behavioural Brain Research, 374:112114. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112114

Totty, M. S., Payne, M. R., Maren, S. (2019). Event boundaries do not cause the immediate extinction deficit after Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats. Scientific Reports, 9:9459. doi: 10.1038/ s41598-019-46010-4

Miles, O. W. and Maren, S. (2019). Role of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals in PTSD: Insights from preclinical models. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 13:68. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2019.00068

Ressler, R. L. and Maren, S. (2019). Synaptic encoding of fear memories in the amygdala. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 54:54-59.

Ramanathan, K. R., Jin, J., Giustino, T. F., Payne, M. R., and Maren, S. (2018). Prefrontal projections to the thalamic nucleus reuniens mediate fear extinction. Nature Communications, 9:4527.

Goode, T. D. and Maren, S. (2018). Common neurocircuitry mediating drug and fear relapse in preclinical models. Psychopharmacology (Berl)

Ramanathan, K. R., Ressler, R. L., Jin, J., and Maren, S. (2018). Nucleus reuniens mediates the encoding and retrieval of precise, hippocampal-dependent contextual fear memories. Journal of Neuroscience, 38:9925-9933.

Giustino, T. F. and Maren, S. (2018), Noradrenergic modulation of fear conditioning and extinction.Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12:1-12. [10th anniversary invitation]

Marek, R., Jin, J., Goode, T. D. , Giustino, T. J., Wang, Q. , Acca, G. M., Holehonnur, R., Ploski, J. E., Fitzgerald, P. J., Lynagh, T. P., Lynch, J. W., Maren, S.¥, & Sah, P.¥ (2018). Hippocampus-driven feedforward inhibition of the prefrontal cortex mediates fear relapse. Nature Neuroscience, 21:384-392.

Moscarello, J. M. and Maren, S. (2018). Flexibility in the face of fear: Hippocampal-prefrontal regulation of fear and avoidance. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19:44-49.

Giustino, T. F., Seeman, J. R., Acca, G. M., Goode, T. D., Fitzgerald, P. J., and Maren, S. (2017). ßadrenoceptor blockade in the basolateral amygdala but not the medial prefrontal cortex rescues the immediate extinction deficit in rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42:2537-2544.

Goode, T. D. and Maren, S. (2017). The role of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals in aversive learning and memory. Learning & Memory, 24:480-91.

Goode, T. D., Holloway-Erickson, C. M., and Maren, S. (2017). Extinction after fear memory reactivation fails to eliminate renewal in rats. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 142:41-47.

Prater, K. E., Aurbach, E. L., Larcinese, H. K., Turner, C. A., Blandino, P., Jr., Watson, S. J., Maren, S., Akil, H. (2017). Selectively bred rats provide a unique model of vulnerability to PTSD-like behavior and respond differentially to FGF2 augmentation early in life. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42:1706-14.

Acca, G. M., Mathew, A. S., Jin, J., Maren, S., Nagaya, N. (2017). Allopregnanolone induces statedependent fear via the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Hormones and Behavior, 89:137-44.

Affiliated Research Cluster

Neuroscience. Neural systems for emotion, learning, and memory; fear and anxiety; rodent models.
Affective Science. Extinguishing fear memories; developing neurotherapeutic interventions for fear.