Research & Scientists | People | AJRODRIGUES


Name: Ana João Rodrigues

Office: G2.25

School Phone: +351 253 604 929

Email: ajrodrigues@med.uminho.pt




Keywords: reward aversion valence nucleus accumbens mesolimbic circuit glucocorticoids prenatal stress optogenetics electrophysiology neuronal circuits


I established my team at ICVS/School of Medicine, University of Minho, Portugal with a competitive FCT Investigator position in December 2013, after obtaining international experience in some leading laboratories in the US and Europe (Holland, Portugal, Italy and Finland).


My research is focused in unraveling how our brain encodes rewarding and aversive events to drive motivated behaviors.

How do our brains compute that a stimulus is “good” or “bad”? How is valence represented in the mammalian brain? What are the neural substrates underlying a rewarding or an aversive experience? What lies between the stimulus and the behavioural response?

On top of these exciting fundamental neuroscience questions, I am also exploring how early life stressin specific developmental windows can imprint long-lasting marks in these processes, leading to maladaptive behaviours (depression, addiction).

In the last years, my team has been allying fundamental with clinical research, combining rodent and human data, using a variety of techniques to find mechanistic explanations on how reward and aversion are encoded in the mammalian brain (rodents- in vivo electrophysiology, optogenetics, calcium imaging, behavioral evaluation; humans – fMRI, neuropsychological evaluation).


Currently, I am a Team Leader and Assistant Professor at ICVS/School of Medicine, University of Minho, Portugal. In addition, I am the Science Outreach Coordinator of host institution, responsible for science dissemination and health literacy promotion for the society.



I graduated in Applied Biology in 2003, with the research trainee at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), Holland (Dorien Peters’ Lab). From 2004 - 2008, I did my PhD at University of Minho, Portugal (Patricia Maciel’s Lab) and at David Geffen School of Medicine - UCLA, USA (Dan Geschwind’s lab). I characterized the first knockout animal model (C. elegans) for ataxin-3, the protein involved in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. I identified several molecular interactors of this protein and showed that ataxin-3 is important for cytoskeletal organization. In 2009, I started a post-doctoral position at ICVS (Nuno Sousa’s lab), where we showed that early life stress induces long-term epigenetic changes in dopamine receptor D2 in the rodent striatum, with significant impact in emotional behavior.


ORCID:            orcid.org/0000-0003-1968-7968

Scopus:           12139015600

ResearcherID:  D-3782-2012


Bibliometric indicators

h-index 28 (Google scholar)

66 publications

2399 citations


Five Key Publications

Coimbra B, et al. (2019): Role of laterodorsal tegmentum projections to nucleus accumbens in reward-related behaviors. Nat Commun 10: 4138. 

Soares-Cunha C, etal. (2019): Nucleus accumbens medium spiny neurons subtypes signal both reward and aversion. Mol Psychiatry

Soares-CunhaC, et al. (2018): Nucleus Accumbens Microcircuit Underlying D2-MSN-Driven Increase in Motivation. eNeuro 5

Coimbra B, et al. (2017): Impairments in laterodorsal tegmentum to VTA projections underlie glucocorticoid-triggered reward deficits. eLife 6. 

Soares-Cunha C, et al. (2016): Activation of D2 dopamine receptor-expressing neurons in the nucleus accumbens increases motivation. Nat Commun 7: 11829


ERC Consolidator 2020 - Challenging current models of valence encoding in the mammalian brain (Valence); Funding agency: ERC (2021-2026)

LCF/PR/HR20/52400020; Encoding reward and aversion in the mammalian brain: the overlooked role of endogenous opioids (RewAve); Funding agency: La Caixa Foundation (2021-2024)

PTDC/MED-NEU/4804/2020; Neuronal circuits of reward and aversion: where do endogenous opioids stand? (ENDOPIO); Funding agency: FCT (2021-2024)

PTDC/MED-NEU/29071/2017; Impact of prenatal stress in the reward system: from depression to addiction and back (REWSTRESS); Funding agency: FCT (2018-2021)

SAICTPAC/0010/2015; Synaptic networks and Personalized Medicine Approaches to Understand Neurobehavioural Diseases Across the Lifespan (MEDPERSYST); Funding agency: FCT (2017-2021) Co-coordinator with N. Sousa

BIAL 30-16; Exploring the neural basis of motivation;Funding agency: BIAL foundation (2017-2019)

CCA-Rodrigues 2015; Long term Impact of Prenatal Glucocorticoid Exposure (Clinical project); Funding agency: Clinical Academic Center (2015-2019)

Selected Honors/Prizes/Competitive scholarships

2013     FENS/Dana Foundation Award for Brain Awareness Week

2013     Best Article in Neurobiology of Systems & Behavior, Portuguese Society for Neurosciences

2012     Janssen Neurosciences Prize, 1st edition

2011     InEurope Grant Award,International Brain Research Organization (IBRO)


Long term impact of prenatal glucocorticoid exposure (Human study) (Leader) 

Nucleus accumbens circuits of reward and aversion (Leader) 

Impact of peripheral neuropathies on CNS function and structure  

Selected Publications

Rodrigues AJ, Leão P, Pêgo JM, Cardona D, Carvalho MM, Oliveira M, Costa BM, Carvalho AF, Morgado P, Araújo D, Palha JA, Almeida OF, Sousa N. Mechanisms of initiation and reversal of drug-seeking behavior induced by prenatal exposure to glucocorticoids. Mol Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;17(12):1295-305. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.126.

Soares-Cunha C, Coimbra B, Sousa N, Rodrigues AJ. Reappraising striatal D1- and D2-neurons in reward and aversion. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 68:370-386 (2016)

Borges S, Coimbra B, Soares-Cunha C, Pego JM, Sousa N, Rodrigues AJ. Dopaminergic modulation of affective and social deficits induced by prenatal glucocorticoid exposure. Neuropsychopharmacology, 38(10):2068-79

Segura-Puimedon M, Sahún I, Velot E, Dubus P, Borralleras C, Rodrigues AJ, Valero MC, Valverde O, Sousa N, Herault Y, Dierssen M, Pérez-Jurado LA, Campuzano V. Heterozygous deletion of the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical interval in mice recapitulates most features of the human disorder. Hum Mol Genet, 23(24):6481-94 (2014)

Marques F, Sousa JC, Coppola G, Falcao AM, Rodrigues AJ, Geschwind DH, Sousa N, Correia-Neves M, Palha JA. Kinetic profile of the transcriptome changes induced in the choroid plexus by peripheral inflammation. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2009 May;29(5):921-32. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2009.15. Epub 2009 Feb 25.

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