Susanne E. Ahmari, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor, Psychiatry


Room 227 Bridgeside Point II


MD, Stanford University (2003)
PhD, Stanford University (2003)


Circuit dynamics underlying pathology and treatment of compulsive behaviors and anxiety disorders

Research Summary

How do molecular and circuit changes in the brain cause psychiatric illness? And how can we leverage the inherent plasticity of the brain to treat psychiatric disorders? Our laboratory is currently addressing these questions by investigating communication between prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia, with a specific focus on dissecting the pathophysiology of perseverative and compulsive behaviors. These disabling and notoriously treatment-resistant symptoms are prominent in multiple severe psychiatric disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, autism, and addiction. Ongoing projects in the lab include identification of molecular changes and plasticity mechanisms linked with the onset, persistence, and treatment of compulsive behaviors. We are also exploring the molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying anxiety, and the relationship between stress, anxiety, and the development of compulsive behaviors. To investigate these questions, we test hypotheses from human clinical studies in mouse models of disease, using a variety of techniques for analysis and manipulation of neural circuits including optogenetics, in vivo electrophysiology, novel transgenic tools, in vivo microscopy, viral tract tracing, and rodent behavioral analysis. The ultimate goal of our work is to develop new treatment approaches for these devastating illnesses.

Summer Undergraduate Research Program



Cazorla, M., Delmondes de Carvalho, F., Shegda, M., Chuhma, N., Rayport, S., Ahmari, S.E. and Kellendonk, C. Striatal D2 receptors regulate the anatomical balance of basal ganglia circuitry. In press. Neuron.

Khierbek, M.A., Drew, L.J., Constantini, D.O., Burghardt, N.S., Tannenholz, L., Ahmari, S.E., Zeng, H., Fenton, A.A. and Hen, R. Differential control of learning and anxiety along the dorso-ventral axis of the dentate gyrus. Neuron. 77: 955-968, 2013.

Ahmari, S.E., Spellman, T., Douglass, N.L., Khierbek, M.A., Gordon, J., Deisseroth, K. and Hen, R. Repeated cortico-striatal stimulation generates chronic OCD-like behavior. Science. 7: 1234-1239, 2013.

Tanaka, K., Ahmari, S.E., Leonardo, E.D., Richardson-Jones, J.W., Budreck, E.C., Scheiffele, P., Inamura, N., Ikenaka, K. and Hen, R. Flexible Accelerated STOP-tetO knockin (FAST): a versatile new gene modulating system. Biological Psychiatry. 67: 770-773, 2010.

Ahmari, S.E., Risbrough, V., Geyer, M. and Simpson, H.B. Impaired sensorimotor gating in unmedicated adults with obsessive compulsive disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology. 37: 1216-1223, 2012.