Université de Strasbourg

Michel Barrot


Michel Barrot

Michel Barrot is a research director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and, since 2018, the director of the Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI), a research institute CNRS that is associated with the University of Strasbourg.

After his academic studies at the ENS Lyon (France), Michel Barrot carried out his PhD training at Inserm - the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research - and Bordeaux University, working on dopamine systems. His results highlighted the neuroanatomical selectivity of the influence that glucocorticoid stress hormones exert on these dopamine systems. At the turn of the century, he joined the Division of Molecular Psychiatry at Yale University (USA) for a post-doctoral training, and was then recruited as assistant professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. His research during those years mostly concerned the role of transcription factors in cerebral plasticity, more specifically studying the influence of a brain region, the nucleus accumbens which is one of the end-points of dopamine systems, in behavioral coping. He came back to France and settled in Strasbourg in 2003, after being recruited as a tenured researcher by the CNRS.

Since then, he has conducted research on the treatment of, and relation between, chronic pain and mood disorders, and continued his research on the neuroanatomy and physiology of dopamine systems. Over these years, his team identified key aspects of the mechanism by which some antidepressant drugs also act as effective treatments of neuropathic pain. These achievements were rewarded by the Institut de France prize for pain-related research. The team is also a pioneer in the experimental study of the anxiodepressive consequences of chronic pain. Besides these pain-related findings, another main research contribution is the description of a new brain region, the tVTA (tail of the ventral tegmental area), which is now recognized as the main inhibitory control center for dopamine systems.

Fellowship 2023

Dates - 01/10/2023-31/12/2025

Project summary


In neuroscience, advances in brain function or pathology and in neuroanatomy are often interdependent. Although frontal and cortical brain regions are mostly well defined, some deeper parts of the brain are still not as well characterized. Earlier this century, we discovered in the rat brain a structure which was named “tVTA” (tail of the ventral tegmental area). This brain structure is now considered as the main inhibitory center for dopamine systems, which are critical modulatory systems implicated in various psychiatric and neurological diseases, including drug abuse and Parkinson's disease. However, the definition of the tVTA was performed in rats, and while it should likely be present in all mammals it has not been defined in the human brain yet. This project aims at providing the first characterization of the tVTA in the human brain.

The project relies on developmental, genomic and anatomical knowledge obtained in rodents in order to translate it toward human neuroanatomy. More specifically, it will use RNAscope approaches to detect tVTA-selective mRNAs on anatomical sections from the human brain. This translational effort would thus offer the definition of a new region in the human brain, which will open up important research avenues. Indeed, by defining the structure, it becomes possible to study it in normal and pathological brain states. It will permit, for example, to study it histologically, to dissect it in human postmortem brains to study it molecularly, and to define its stereotaxic coordinates to study it by human brain imaging. These openings may be particularly relevant in various human pathological states. Indeed, research conducted in rodents evidenced that the tVTA is the main inhibitory control center for dopamine systems that influence diverse physiological functions, including reward-related and motor-related ones, and are implicated in the etiology, symptoms or treatment of psychiatric or neurological diseases, such as drug abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.

France 2030