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Fergil Mills


Assistant Professor, Neurobiology

Cellular Neuroscience
Molecular Neuroscience
Brain and Behavior

Lab Website



B.S. 2007, University of Northern British Columbia; Ph.D. 2015 University of British Columbia; Postdoc 2019, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Postdoc Present, Salk Institute for Biological Studies


Exploring the neural circuits that underlie learning and behavior



Every day, we have to make sense of sensory stimuli in the world around us. We can identify things that are rewarding or dangerous based on our learned experience, and then use this information to choose the correct behavior – a process critical for survival. A major goal of our lab is to uncover the neural circuits that represent rewards and threats in the brain, and understand how these circuits act to direct motivated behaviors. Understanding the neural circuits which mediate learning and motivated behavior is also of critical importance to mental health: responses to environmental stimuli are severely disrupted in neurological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to damaging behavioral outcomes. In order to develop effective treatments for these disorders, we must first identify the fundamental mechanisms underlying learning and valence in the brain.



A key focus of our lab’s research program is the Amygdalostriatal Transition Zone, or “ASt”. The ASt is highly connected with the amygdala, a key structure for emotional learning, and the striatum, which plays a critical role in action selection. However, the role of the ASt in learning and behavior is poorly understood. In our recent work we have found that ASt neurons encode aversive conditioned stimuli, and are both necessary and sufficient to drive defensive behaviors, establishing the ASt as a new structure of interest in the study of motivated behaviors. 


We are currently working to understand the role of this structure in both learned and innate responses to stimuli. Our lab uses a combination of in vivo calcium imaging, optogenetics, and in vivo electrophysiology, and combines these techniques with deep-learning based computational analysis of behavior in freely-moving mice. 



The Mills lab is currently recruiting at all levels! 

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Fergil’s Google Scholar Profile 



Last Updated: 6/5/24