Dr Juan Canales

Dr Juan J. Canales


Senior Lecturer


D.Phil. (Oxford)
M.Sc. (London)



Contact Details

Phone +64 3 364 2987 (Ext. 45644)
Internal Phone 45644
Lab ext 7303

Email Juan.Canales@canterbury.ac.nz

Postal address
Department of Psychology
University of Canterbury
Private Bag 4800
New Zealand

Undergraduate Courses

  • PSYC212 - Foundations of Behavioural Neuroscience - Course Coordinator
  • PSYC333 – Biological Psychology

Graduate Courses

  • PSYC463 – Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviour - Course Coordinator

Statement of research

I aim to understand the biological and psychological substrates of addictions and how these overlap with the brain processes that mediate learning, memory, motivation and emotion. I investigate in humans and animals the brain mechanisms that mediate vulnerability and resilience and my team works to discover novel, more efficacious therapies, both psychosocial and pharmacological, to treat addiction-spectrum disorders. I welcome enquiries from motivated students willing to collaborate with my team or to join my lab to pursue a UC Master or Ph.D. degree, as well as from talented postdoctoral associates wishing to continue their research career in New Zealand.

Research on the news

TV3 National news: Scientific breakthrough could eliminate addiction


3News: Drugs with alcohol affects babies' brains


Research opportunities in the Canales lab

I am currently accepting Master students, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral associates. I am not able to provide stipends or salaries but I will support applications from excellent researchers to national and international funding agencies. Check the links below for further information regarding scholarships you may be eligible to apply for.

New Zealand International Doctoral Research Scholarships

UC International Doctoral Scholarships

UC Doctoral Scholarships

UC Master's Scholarships

UC College of Science Postgraduate Scholarships

Te Rau Matatini Master's & PhD Scholarships

International Human Frontier Science Program - Postdoctoral Research

Lines of research

I study addiction and related behaviours (e.g., compulsive eating, gambling) from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from basic psychology and neurobiology to applied therapeutics. This research addresses an important health problem and responds to societal needs, and is published in international journals and books (check the latest publications in UC Spark – link at the bottom of the page).

Human Neuroscience

In light of advances in non-invasive physiological and imaging techniques it has become possible to increase our knowledge of the relationships among neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and addictive behaviour in humans. I attempt to study if there is a mode of functional brain organization that characterizes addiction vulnerability and resilience. I am particularly interested in personality traits (e.g., impulsivity, sensation-seeking, sign-tracking) that may predispose to addictive behaviours. New research in our lab is also looking at interventions that may reduced the impact of conditioned drug-related cues on physiological activity in the brain and craving in binge drikers and nicotine dependent subjects. These interventions include attentional retraining, mindfulness and neurofeedback.

Neurobiology of Drug Addiction

We are interested in the neural circuitry mediating addictive-like behaviour and in the psychological processes (i.e., learning and memory processes) that underpin addiction. Addiction is an intricate chronic disorder which forms in part through gradual strengthening of stimulus-response associations.

Behaviours associated associations are initially flexible but become more rigid through repetitive actions and habits as the disorder progresses. The neurocircuitry that underlies habit formation is extensive and has not been fully identified. Some of my current work focuses on identifying the limbic-striatal circuits and neuronal systems that mediate the establishment of addiction habits.

 Activation of striosomes in the dorsal striatum

Activation of striosomes in the dorsal striatum
(Canales JJ and Graybiel AM, Nature Neuroscience, 2000)


Part of my research work is also devoted to the study of adult neurogenesis, one of the most remarkable forms of brain plasticity. The implications of adult neurogenesis in health and disease are an exciting field of research in humans and animals. In the context of addiction, impaired neurogenesis may constitute a vulnerability factor for addictive disorders. My previous research has shown that drugs of abuse as well as adverse environmental situations, such as chronic stress, can negatively affect hippocampal neurogenesis. One of my objectives is to understand the relationship between drugs, neurogenesis and habits and, more generally, to study the implications of neurogenesis for health and wellbeing.

Drugs of abuse interfere with neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus

Drugs of abuse interfere with neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus
(Canales JJ, Behavioural Pharmacology, 2010).


In recent years our lab has also devoted considerable efforts to identify targets for medication development in addiction. A novel approach in the treatment of addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders involves targeting the trace amines, transmitters that act on recently discovered receptors named TAAR1. I work in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. to study TAAR1 function in neuropsychiatric disorders, with particular emphasis in addiction, using a combination of behavioural, neurochemical, physiological and genetic approaches. My research in this area focuses on investigating TAAR1 behavioural functions and characterising the potential of TAAR1 as a therapeutic target in addiction and other psychopathological processes and neurological disorders.

 Activation of the receptor TAAR1 with the partial agonist RO5203648 eliminates cocaine craving

Activation of the receptor TAAR1 with the partial agonist RO5203648 eliminates cocaine craving
(Pei et al., Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014).

Editorial appointments

Regional Editor, Current Psychopharmacology
Journal Editor, Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science
Editorial Board, Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy
Editorial Board, Neural Regeneration Research

Publications and UC Research Profile