The Warden Lab is moving to the University of Arizona in August 2024!

We will be recruiting at all levels, please email if interested.


Our lab investigates the neural circuits that underlie motivated behavior. We are interested in understanding how these circuits support adaptive behavioral decision making, and how internal state and environmental structure shape their functional operation.


Many of our research projects are focused on neuromodulatory circuits such as the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus and the dopaminergic ventral tegmental area and their inputs and outputs. Neural activity in these regions reflects quantities such as value, threat, and distance to goals. What kind of information is transmitted to these regions, and how is this information used to construct these neural activity patterns? How do these regions influence downstream neural circuit operation, and what behavioral and cognitive consequences result from changes in afferent and efferent information flow?


To address these questions, we use an observational and causal approach, combining monitoring and decoding of neural activity with control of defined circuit elements. The lab employs a multidisciplinary approach combining imaging, optogenetics, anatomy, high-density freely moving neurophysiology, behavior, and computation.


"On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail,

Reason the card, but passion is the gale;

Nor God alone in the still calm we find,

He mounts the storm, and walks upon the wind"

--Alexander Pope


Melissa R. Warden, Ph.D.

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853

mrwarden [at]