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Queen's University

Richard J. Beninger


Welcome to the Lab!

Beninger Lab

Jonathan Beuk | Lisa Bradford Yu Qing Liu | Elly Mechesfske Jeffery Rocca | Lexy Schimmel Corrine Seeley | Ryland Steel | Rebekah Wickens | Kathleen Xu



Jonathan Beuk, M.Sc.

Ph.D. Candidate

Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Area of research: The study of executive function (the cognitive abilities that allow voluntary control of goal-directed actions) has extended our understanding of how the brain plans, initiates, and often inhibits thoughts and actions in situations where their appropriateness may change in a dynamic environment. Deficits in the inhibitory control of action are likely an underlying cause of a number of psychopathologies including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I am currently investigating inhibitory control of action with the countermanding paradigm. The countermanding task consists of GO trials (75% of trials) which require a primary response, interleaved with stop trials (25%) whereby a stop signal instructs cancellation of the primary response. With this paradigm we are able to employ a comprehensive array of investigative techniques to explore the basic neural mechanisms underlying inhibitory control, particularly where it may be impaired in neurological disease and impulsivity.


Peer-reviewed Publications


Beninger RJ, Beuk J, Banasikowski TJ, van Adel M, Boivin GA, Reynolds JN (2010) Subchronic phencyclidine in rats: alterations in locomotor activity, maze performance, and GABA(A) receptor binding. Behavioral Pharmacology 21:1-10.

Swain, SN, Beuk, J, Heidbreder, CA & Beninger, RJ (2008) Role of dopamine D3 receptors in the expression of conditioned fear in rats. European Journal of Pharmacology 579:167-176.



Lisa Bradford

Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology

Area of research: I am currently in the second year of my doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Nondeclarative memory has subtypes associated with different brain regions. Learning of a probabilistic classification task is impaired by striatal damage and learning of a gambling task is compromised by ventromedial prefrontocortical damage. Typical antipsychotics affect immediate early gene expression in the striatum but not in the frontal cortex, whereas atypical antipsychotics induce c-fos in the frontal cortex but not in the striatum. Moreover, previous research in the Beninger lab demonstrated that schizophrenic patients on typical antipsychotics, compared with those on atypicals and normal controls, were impaired in probabilistic classification learning. In contrast, patients on atypical antipsychotics, compared with the other two groups, performed significantly worse on the gambling task. These results suggest that typical and atypical antipsychotics differentially affect nondeclarative memory mediated by different brain regions. Building on these important findings for my doctoral dissertation, I will use the same nondeclarative memory paradigms to determine the neuroanatomical correlates of individual atypical antipsychotic medications. For example, it is hypothesized that in higher doses the atypical antipsychotic, risperidone, functions more like a typical antipsychotic. On which nondeclarative memory task will schizophrenic patients on risperidone be impaired and which brain region, the striatum or ventromedial prefrontal cortex, will be implicated? Given that atypical antipsychotics have become the first-line treatment for schizophrenia, it is imperative to understand their cognitive and neuroanatomical effects.


Peer-reviewed Publications


Hopkins, R. W., Day, D. J., Kilik, L. A., Rows, C. P., Bradford, L., & Hamilton, P. (2004). Kingston Standardized Behavioural Assessment. Geriatric Psychiatry Programme Clinical/Research Bulletin, No. 14.

Knott, V., Bradford, L., Millar, A., Dulude, L., Alwahabi, F., Lau, T., Shea, C., & Wiens, A. (2004). Event-related potentials in young and elderly adults during a visual spatial working memory task. Clinical Electroencephalography and Neuroscience, 35(4), 185-192.

Knott, V., Bradford, L., Dulude, L., Millar, A., Alwahabi, F., Lau, T., Shea, C., & Wiens, A. (2003). Effects of stimulus modality and response mode on the P300 event-related potential differentiation in young and elderly adults. Clinical Electroencephalography,34(4), 182-190.

Selected Presentations

Bradford, L., Kilik. L.A., Olmstead, C., Hopkins, R.W., Day, D.J., & Rows, C.P. (2006, February). Exploring promising new behavioural assessment tools for dementia: Validation of the Kingston Standardized Behavioural Assessment (KSBA). Poster session to be presented at the International Neuropsychological Society Conference, Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

Bradford, L., Kilik. L.A., Hopkins, R.W., Day, D.J., Rows, C.P., & Prince, C. (2005, July). Validation of the Kingston Standardized Cognitive Assessment- Revised (KSCA-R). Poster session presented at the annual Brain and Behaviour and Cognitive Science Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Knott, V., Bradford, L., Dulude, L., Millar, A., Alwahabi, F., Lau, T., Shea, C., & Wiens, A. (2003, June). Impact of age and task modality on the P300 event-related potential of the human electroencephalogram. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

■ Winner for best poster in field of human development (value of $250)

Knott, V.,Bradford, L., Dulude, L., Millar, A., Alwahabi, F., Lau, T., Shea, C., & Wiens, A. (2002, November). Brain event-related potential correlates of normal cognitive aging. Poster session presented at the 23rd University of Ottawa (Department of Psychiatry) Annual Research Day, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

■ Won first prize research award (value of $500).



Yu Qing Liu

B.Sc. (Hons.) Candidate in Psychology

Area of research: Previously, I have looked at the effects of repeated Aripripazole administration on a natural reward lever press task in male rats. For my thesis this year, I am studying the effects of mid-adolescent intermittent physical stressors on anxiety related behaviours and amphetamine-induced locomotion in adult male rats. I will be using three stressors (water imersion, foot shock, and elevated platform) and three behavioural tests (shock-probe burying task, activity box and elevated plus maze) to investigate this topic.

Elly Mechefske


Elly Mechefske

B.Sc. (Hons.) Candidate in Psychology

Area of research: My research is on inhibitory control of behaviour in rats. I will be using the stop-signal task, in which rats learn to complete a primary response for a food reward, but on some trials are given a signal and must inhibit the primary response in order to be rewarded. My research will focus on differences in reaction times on GO trials caused by the presence or absence of STOP trials within a session, as well as differences in reaction times on GO trials immediately following STOP trials in which the rat fails to inhibit the primary response.


Jeffery Rocca, B.A. (Hons.)

M.Sc. Candidate in Psychology
Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science

Area of Research: For my Master's thesis, I will be investigating the effects of glycogen synthase kinase-3ß (GSK-3ß) inhibition on cocaine-conditioned activity in rats. Environmental stimuli paired with drug reinforcement can become secondary reinforcers and can elicit conditioned behavioural activation and drug-seeking behaviours in rats. Recent evidence has strongly implicated GSK-3ß, an intracellular signalling molecule, in the behavioural and neurochemical effects of psychostimulants. The purpose of my investigation is to see if the acquisition or expression of cocaine-conditioned activity is modulated by inhibition of GSK-3.


Background: I did my B.A. (Hons.) in Psychology at Laurentian University (Sudbury, On.), where I studied the consequences of physiologically-patterned electromagnetic field exposure on sleep-dependent memory in Sprague-Dawley rats.


My interests include the neuropsychopharmacology of drug addiction, psychotic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases; human neuroanatomy; individual differences in drug response; the electrochemical basis of consciousness.

Lexy Schimmel, B.A. (Hons.)

M. Sc. Candidate

Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Area of research: I am a master’s student co-supervised by Dr. Beninger and Dr. Dumont. In my undergraduate thesis I investigated neuroanatomical changes in the basal ganglia of rats using an immunohistochemical assay for the protein c-Fos, a marker of recent neuronal activity. Dr. Banasikowski ran rats in a catalepsy paradigm using the dopamine D2 receptor-antagonist haloperidol. Catalepsy is an animal model of Parkinson’s disease, where rats cease to initiate movement. Dr. Banasikowski discovered a drug-environment interaction using behavioural testing, and my immunohistochemical results supported his findings. I want to continue to link neuroanatomical changes to behavioural effects. I hope to explore other behavioural paradigms, such as conditioned place preference, by collaborating with behavioural researchers in Dr. Beninger’s lab. I am interested in the basal ganglia because it is a key brain region involved in integration of motivation and sensory information, and the production of movement. The basal ganglia has been implicated in serious disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, and research into the functional neuroanatomy may one day inform research into potential treatments.




Corrine Seeley, M.Sc.

Ph.D. Candidate

Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Area of research: While working towards completing my Ph.D. I will be investigating the relationship between sleep and cognitive procedural learning. It is widely reported that off-line processing of both motor procedural and declarative learning tasks occur during post-learning sleep and that specific sleep mechanisms play a very important role in memory consolidation and performance improvement. On a behavioural level, sleep has been shown to improve performance on cognitively complex learning tasks, however, little has been done to investigate post-learning sleep architecture changes and how they are correlated with task improvement scores. In collaboration with Dr Carlyle Smith at Trent University Sleep lab, some questions I will be asking are  1) how does sleep architecture change following learning of a cognitive procedural learning task, 2) how do these changes correlate with aspects of performance improvement and 3) are certain brain areas involved in off-line processing during sleep.


My previous research interests have involved investigating situational caffeine tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster, as well as an investigation of forced copulation.



Peer-reviewed Publications

Seeley, C & Dukas, R. (2011). Teneral matings in fruit flies: Male coercion and female response.  Animal Behaviour, 81, 595-601.



Ryland Steel, M.Sc.

Ph.D. Candidate 

Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Area of research: Frontostriatal connections underline disparate features of non-declarative memory.  Previous research has shown that damage to the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for decision making and other complex cognitive tasks, results in impaired functioning as assessed by the Iowa Gambling task; a measure of non-declarative memory.  Likewise, damage to the striatum, also involved in executive functioning, has been previously shown to elicit impaired performance on a probabilistic classification learning task. Furthermore, typical and atypical antipsychotic medications have been shown to differentially affect performance on these two tasks by way of their influence on these underlying brain regions in patients with schizophrenia. My research focuses on further exploring the roles of different brain regions implicated in driving subtypes of non-declarative memory with an emphasis on the possible effects of atypical neuroleptics in a sample population of patients with schizophrenia.



SFN Poster Presentation

Steel R, Seary C, Parr A, Stillar D, Saari M. Antalarmin reduces anxiety in the elevated plus maze but not latency to immobility in the forced swim task.

Rebekah Wickens rebekah.wickens(at)

Rebekah Wickens, B.Sc. (Hons.)

M.Sc. Candidate in Psychology

Area of Research: As a summer and thesis student in the lab, I aim to examine the role of enzyme Glycogen-Synthase-Kinase-3β (GSK-3β) upon the amphetamine-induced Conditioned Place Preference (CPP) paradigm. Research has yielded conflicting results: systemic injections of the GSK-3β inhibitor SB 216763 have shown to block expression but not acquisition in the conditioned activity paradigm, whereas central injections of the same drug have shown to block acquisition but not expression. Through my research, I hope to further understand this phenomenon, in efforts to sort out the greater puzzle of signaling pathways, dopamine receptors, and reward-incentive learning.


Kathleen Xu, B.Sc. (Hons.) 

Research Technician

Lab Coordinator
Honours Thesis Student 2012-2013

Area of Research: Currently, I am examining the nature of inactivity and its development over time in an state of chronically reduced dopaminergic transmission. This is a continuation of my honours thesis work, where I observed the influence of environmental cues and dopamine D1 receptors on haloperidol-induced catalepsy sensitization. This work aims to elucidate the role of the dopaminergic system in producing symptoms such as catalepsy, commonly seen in Parkinson's disease.

In addition, I will be studying the effects of centrally administered amphetamine in the rat model. Using stereotactic surgical techniques, I hope to examine the interaction between dopaminergic agonists and the Wnt signaling pathway.


Additional Duties: As the lab coordinator, I am responsible for the procurement of experimental supplies, record maintenance, personnel training, and other administrative duties.



Poster Presentation


Xu K, Banasikowski TJ, Beninger RJ. Test environment pre-exposure mediates catalepsy sensitization response: possible role of D1-like receptors.

Poster presented at: 7th Annual Canadian Neuroscience Meeting; 2013 May 21-24; Toronto, Canada.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000