Fereshteh S. Nugent


Department of Primary Appointment:
School of Medicine
Pharmacology & Molecular Therapeutics
USU faculty
Location: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
Research Interests:
Synaptic plasticity, Reward Pathway, Drug Addiction, Neuropsychiatric Disorders
Early Life Stress, Novel Antidepressants
Office Phone


Ph.D., Neurophysiology, Tarbiat Modarres University, Tehran, Iran, 2003
Postdoctoral, Neuroscience, Brown University


Synaptic Plasticity of the Reward Pathway

Since the discovery of synaptic plasticity as the cellular correlate of learning and memory, strong overlaps between neural and cellular substrates of learning, drug addiction and stress-related disorders have been recognized. Yet it remains a major challenge to identify the neural circuits and synaptic mechanisms contributing to abnormalities in dopamine signaling induced by addictive drugs and adverse early life experiences. The major focus of my laboratory is the elucidation of synaptic mechanisms underlying reward learning, drug addiction and neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, with particular emphasis on the midbrain dopamine system originating from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and its control by the lateral habenula (LHb). Research in our laboratory also explores effects of severe early life stress and traumatic brain injury on synaptic transmission and plasticity of distinct VTA/LHb circuits to identify the neural circuits and molecular mechanisms contributing to abnormalities in dopamine signaling induced by adverse early life experiences. The main technique in Nugent laboratory is whole cell patch clamp recording, optogenetics, DREADDs, epigenetic and Western blot techniques. We also use a variety of other complementary techniques such as immunohistochemistry and behavioral techniques in collaboration with other laboratories.

Nugent Lab

Postdoctoral Fellows: Dr. Ludovic Langlois, Dr. Sarah Simmons

Graduate Students: William Flerlage

Lab Alumni

Dr. Matthieu Dacher (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France), Dr. Jayaraj N. Kodangattil, Dr. Haifa Kassis, Dr. Michael Authement (NIAAA), Dr. Ryan Shepard (NINDS)

Representative publications, projects, and/or deployments

2019-2023 Nominated and appointed Regular Member/Reviewer for NMB NIH Study Section

Associate Editor for Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience

Editorial Board Member for Journal of Neuroscience Research

2015 USU Hébert School of Medicine Dean Impact Award for outstanding contributions in research, education and service

Selected as a mentor for the 2018 NIDA Summer Research Internship Program

2018 USU Hébert School of Medicine Dean Impact Award for outstanding contributions in research, education and service

2019 USU Hébert School of Medicine Dean Recognition for contributions to Neuroscience Module

2019 USU Hébert School of Medicine Dean Impact Award for outstanding contributions in research, education and service

2019 Recipient of the 2019 Henry C. Wu Award for Excellence in Basic Science at USU


Shepard RD, Langlois LD, Authement ME, Nugent FS. Histone deacetylase inhibition reduces ventral tegmental area dopamine neuronal hyperexcitability involving AKAP150 signaling following maternal deprivation in juvenile male rats. J Neuro Res., 00:1–11(2020)

Shepard R.D., Langlois, L.D., Browne C.A., Berenji A., Lucki L., and Nugent F.S., Ketamine Reverses Lateral Habenula Neuronal Dysfunction and Behavioral Immobility in the Forced Swim Test Following Maternal Deprivation in Late Adolescent Rats. Front. Synaptic Neurosci., 10:39 (2018)

Authement M.E., Langlois L. D., Shepard R.D., Browne C.A., Lucki L., Kassis H., and Nugent F.S., A role for corticotrophin releasing factor signaling in the lateral habenula and its modulation by early life stress, Science Signaling, 11:520 (2018)

Langlois, L.D. and Nugent F.S. Opiates and plasticity in ventral tegmental area, Invited Review, ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 20;8(9):1830-1838 (2017)

Authement M.E., Kodangattil J.N.,Gouty,S., Rusnak, M., Symes A.J., Cox B.M., and Nugent F.S., Histone deacetylase inhibition rescues maternal deprivation-induced GABAergic metaplasticity through restoration of AKAP signaling, Neuron, 86: 1240–1252 (2015)

Dacher, M. A., Gouty, S., Dash, S., Cox, B.M., and Nugent, F.S., A-kinase anchoring protein-calcineurin signaling in long-term depression of GABAergic synapses, Journal of Neuroscience, 33:2650-60 (2013) Nugent, F.S., Penick, E.C., Kauer, J.A., Opiates block long-term potentiation of GABAergic synapses. Nature, 466: 1086-1095 (2007)