Mihaela Iordanova is the 2020 Canadian Association for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award winner

The Canadian Association for Neuroscience is very proud to announce that Dr. Mihaela Iordanova, from Concordia University, is the winner of the 2020 CAN Young Investigator Award.

Mihaela Iordanova
Dr. Mihaela Iordanova

Dr. Mihaela Iordanova’s research (https://iordanovalab.org/) combines sophisticated behavioral models with the latest neuroscience techniques to understand how learning is implemented in the brain. Her work focuses on studying how the brain establishes associative relationships between events in the environment, how it updates prior knowledge with new information, and how it can make novel inferences about the world based on its current knowledge. To answer these questions, her team uses reinforcement learning and formal associative theory in conjunction with real-time neuronal recording and causal techniques.

Dr Iordanova’s research has implications for learning and memory disorders as well as the management of addiction and anxiety, conditions that can be treated clinically by behavior modifying therapies.

Associative learning underscores our ability to make (accurate) predictions about the world, which in turn allows us to behave in a way that is appropriate to a given situation. Dr. Iordanova has made key discoveries in the area of associative learning and behavioural neuroscience. To understand how the brain establishes associative relationships, she has honed in on uncovering the brain mechanism of prediction error, the critical teaching signal that instructs learning. Prediction error occurs when reality fails to match predictions. Dr. Iordanova’s research sheds light on how this process occurs in the brain. Using cutting-edge behavioral and optogenetic techniques to modulate signaling in the brain, she was recently able to provide important insight into the role of dopamine as a prediction error signal.

The ability to update previously established predictions and in turn modify behaviour allows us to reduce or even eliminate inefficient actions. A second important concept that Dr. Iordanova is studying focuses on this process of updating specifically when our predictions about upcoming events surpass reality. This form of learning leads to a downward adjustment of our predictions and an inhibition of established behaviour. Work done in the Iordanova laboratory studies this learning across a variety of conditions and has led to the identification of the specific role of brain regions in this learning.

Finally, the Iordanova laboratory also investigates how emotional memories can become linked to memories from the past or generalized to newly acquired memories, thus adding an emotional component to normally neutral memories. For example, a specific cue can be associated with a fear inducing outcome, and a second, initially neutral cue, once associated with the first cue, may become emotionally charged (fear producing). Dr Iordanova has been studying the neurobiology of how emotional memories propagate across the memory network.

By bringing together many different aspect of learning, from initial learning to updating, across different emotional states, from appetitive (reward) to aversive (fear), Dr. Iordanova’s research has led to a better understanding of the complex interaction of brain regions, and signals that promote learning and memory.

Mihaela’s focus is to bridge the gap between the appetitive and aversive fields and understand how these events interact behaviorally and in the brain. This line of research is completely novel and will sure make an important impact on the field. Thus she has continued to make fundamental discoveries with regard to behavioral neuroscience and has become a strong leader in the field. I believe that her approach and her discoveries provide fundamental insight into the neurobiology of learning and memory.

-Geoffrey Schoenbaum, MD, PhD, Branch Chief and Distinguished Investigator – NIDA/NIH


The importance of Dr. Iordanova’s work goes beyond the basic science of understanding how the brain responds to reward and fear – it is relevant to clinical settings as behavioural and pharmacological approaches used to reduce unwanted behaviour are the backbone to clinical treatments for anxiety and addiction, such as cue exposure therapy.

Dr. Mihaela Iordanova has proven to be a deep-thinker who has made unique and very important contributions to the field of neuroscience.

Cecilia Flores, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University


Dr. Iordanova is a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Behavioural Neuroscience, and a 2016 NARSAD Young Investigator. She was the recipient of a K99/R00 Pathways to Independence award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012. Dr. Iordanova’s research is supported by federal and provincial funding agencies including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Fonds de Recherche du Quebec – Nature et Technologies. She is a member of the College of reviewers and serves on the editorial boards of eLife, The Journal of Neuroscience, Scientific Reports, Behavioural Neuroscience, Learning & Behaviour, and The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

In addition to her recognition as a leader in the field of learning and memory, Dr. Iordanova has also demonstrated a strong commitment to training the next generation of scientists, by supporting and providing career development opportunities to her trainees. She is also recognized by her peers as an excellent speaker who is already making a statement in her field.

Dr. Iordanova has already proven to be an exemplary scientist – we are proud to present her with the CAN 2020 Young Investigator Award.

Learn more about Dr. Mihaela Iordanova’s research on her website: https://iordanovalab.org/


Five most significant scientific publications

Causal evidence supporting the proposal that dopamine transients function as temporal difference prediction errors. Maes EJP, Sharpe MJ, Usypchuk AA, Lozzi M, Chang CY, Gardner MPH, Schoenbaum G, Iordanova MD. Nat Neurosci. 2020 Feb;23(2):176-178. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0574-1. Epub 2020 Jan 20.

The serial blocking effect: a testbed for the neural mechanisms of temporal-difference learning. Mahmud A, Petrov P, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. Sci Rep. 2019 Apr 12;9(1):5962. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-42244-4.

Neural correlates of two different types of extinction learning in the amygdala central nucleus. Iordanova MD, Deroche ML, Esber GR, Schoenbaum G. Nat Commun. 2016 Aug 17;7:12330. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12330.

Dissociation of Appetitive Overexpectation and Extinction in the Infralimbic Cortex. Lay BPP, Nicolosi M, Usypchuk AA, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. Cereb Cortex. 2019 Aug 14;29(9):3687-3701. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy248. Erratum in: Cereb Cortex. 2019 Apr 1;29(4):1703.

Retrieval-mediated learning involving episodes requires synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. Iordanova MD, Good M, Honey RC. J Neurosci. 2011 May 11;31(19):7156-62. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0295-11.2011.