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Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D.

Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Associate Director, Center for Health Behaviors Research

Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D. headshot

"Commonly abused drugs all increase dopamine release in the striatum, a brain region that we’re learning is also activated when people ingest certain foods."


How our brains influence food preference

Why do we crave certain foods?
Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D., is an appetitive neuroscientist who studies how the brain integrates peripheral signals to guide food selection and eating behaviors. Using multimodal brain imaging and metabolic measures, her laboratory in Roanoke studies food motivation to ask new questions about diet, food choice, and addiction. 

While completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Sweet Briar College, she became interested in reward learning and motivation. This led her to pursue a master’s degree and doctorate in biopsychology from the University of Michigan, where she studied how opioids alter motivation in animal models. During her postdoctoral training at Yale University and the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany, Dr. DiFeliceantonio examined the role of post-ingestive dopamine signaling in eating behavior and food choices.

  • Assistant Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Associate Director, Center for Health Behaviors Research
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Fromm S, Perszyk EE, Kanyamibwa A, Wall KM, Hutelin Z, Trinh J, Davis XS, Green BG, Flack KD, DiFeliceantonio A, Small DM. Development of MacroPics: A novel food picture set to dissociate the effects of carbohydrate and fat on eating behaviors. Appetite. 2020 Nov 23;159:105051. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.105051. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 33242580.

Wall KM, Farruggia MC, Perszyk EE, Kanyamibwa A, Fromm S, Davis XS, Dalenberg JR, DiFeliceantonio AG, Small DM. No evidence for an association between obesity and milkshake liking. Int J Obes (Lond). 2020 Aug;44(8):1668-1677. doi: 10.1038/s41366-020-0583-x. Epub 2020 May 12. PubMed PMID: 32398755; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7387147.

Thanarajah SE, Backes H, DiFeliceantonio AG, Albus K, Cremer AL, Hanssen R, Lippert RN, Cornely OA, Small DM, Brüning JC, Tittgemeyer M. (2019). Food Intake Recruits Orosensory and Post-ingestive Dopaminergic Circuits to Affect Eating Desire in Humans. Cell Metab 29(3): 695-706.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.12.006.

Small DM, DiFeliceantonio AG. (2019). Processed foods and food reward. Science 363(6425): 346-347. doi: 10.1126/science.aav0556.

DiFeliceantonio AG, Coppin G, Rigoux L, Edwin Thanarajah S, Dagher A, Tittgemeyer M, Small DM. (2018). Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward. Cell Metab 28(1): 33-44.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.05.018.

  • Yale University, Associate Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry
  • Icahn School of Medicine, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neuroscience
  • Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, Translational Neurocircuitry
  • University of Michigan: Ph.D., Psychology, Biospsychology
  • Sweet Briar College: B.S., Psychology


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