Photo of John T. Williams, Ph.D.

John T. Williams Ph.D.

After earning his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Loyola University in 1979, John Williams worked as a research scientist at the Max-Planck Institute in Munich and at Loyola University School of Medicine. He then spent five years as a research scientist in Biological Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1987, he became an assistant scientist at the Vollum Institute and rose to the position of senior scientist in 1996. He holds a concurrent appointment in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the School of Medicine.

Williams and colleagues investigate the early events that lead to the development of tolerance to opioids. Opioids such as morphine are important therapeutic compounds used for the management of pain, but the primary problem with their use is the development of tolerance, where higher doses are required to achieve the same effect. By focusing on the long-term effects of morphine and cocaine on synaptic transmission in the reward centers of the brain—dopamine cells of the ventral tegmental area and GABA cells of the nucleus accumbens—the lab hopes to identify the cellular basis for drug addiction.

Areas of interest

  • opiate desensitization and tolerance
  • receptor trafficking
  • dendrodendritic transmission


  • B.S., St. Lawrence University, Canton New York 1972
  • M.A., State University of New York, Potsdam, Potsdam New York 1975
  • Ph.D., Loyola University, Chicago Illinois 1979


  • "Ultrafast neuronal imaging of dopamine dynamics with designed genetically encoded sensors." Science  In: , 31.05.2018, p. 1-14.
  • "Cellular tolerance at the µ-opioid receptor is phosphorylation dependent." eLife In: , Vol. 7, e34989, 28.03.2018.
  • "The Evolving Understanding of Dopamine Neurons in the Substantia Nigra and Ventral Tegmental Area." Annual Review of Physiology In: , Vol. 80, 10.02.2018, p. 219-241.
  • "Desensitization and Tolerance of Mu Opioid Receptors on Pontine Kölliker-Fuse Neurons." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 93, No. 1, 01.01.2018, p. 8-13.
  • "Desensitized D2 autoreceptors are resistant to trafficking." Scientific Reports In: , Vol. 7, No. 1, 4728, 01.12.2017.
  • "Cocaine-induced adaptation of dopamine D2S, but not D2L autoreceptors." eLife In: , Vol. 6, e31924, 20.11.2017.
  • "Two-color, one-photon uncaging of glutamate and GABA." PLoS One In: , Vol. 12, No. 11, e0187732, 01.11.2017.
  • "Presynaptic gain control by endogenous cotransmission of dopamine and GABA in the olfactory bulb." Journal of Neurophysiology In: , Vol. 117, No. 3, 01.03.2017, p. 1163-1170.
  • "Cholinergic interneurons underlie spontaneous dopamine release in nucleus accumbens." Journal of Neuroscience In: , Vol. 37, No. 8, 22.02.2017, p. 2086-2096.
  • "Calcium Release from Stores Inhibits GIRK." Cell Reports In: , Vol. 17, No. 12, 20.12.2016, p. 3246-3255.
  • "μ opioid receptor activation hyperpolarizes respiratory-controlling Kölliker-Fuse neurons and suppresses post-inspiratory drive." Journal of Physiology In: , Vol. 593, No. 19, 01.10.2015, p. 4453-4469.
  • "Agonist binding and desensitization of the μ-opioid receptor is modulated by phosphorylation of the C-terminal tail domain." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 88, No. 4, 01.10.2015, p. 816-824.
  • "Distinct regulation of dopamine D2S and D2L autoreceptor signaling by calcium." eLife In: , Vol. 4, No. AUGUST2015, e09358, 26.08.2015.
  • "Cocaine Decreases Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor mGluR1 Currents in Dopamine Neurons by Activating mGluR5." Neuropsychopharmacology In: , Vol. 40, No. 10, 01.04.2015, p. 2418-2424.
  • "Does PKC activation increase the homologous desensitization of μ opioid receptors?" British Journal of Pharmacology In: , Vol. 172, No. 2, 2015, p. 583-592.
  • "Depression of serotonin synaptic transmission by the dopamine Precursor L-DOPA." Cell Reports In: , Vol. 12, No. 6, 2015, p. 944-954.
  • "The rare DAT coding variant Val559 perturbs da neuron function, changes behavior, and alters in vivo responses to psychostimulants." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America In: , Vol. 111, No. 44, 04.11.2014, p. E4779-E4788.
  • "Separate GABA afferents to dopamine neurons mediate acute action of opioids, development of tolerance, and expression of withdrawal." Neuron In: , Vol. 82, No. 6, 18.06.2014, p. 1346-1356.
  • "Desensitization of functional μ-opioid receptors increases agonist off-rate." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 86, No. 1, 2014, p. 52-61.
  • "A selective 5-HT1a receptor agonist improves respiration in a mouse model of Rett syndrome." Journal of Applied Physiology In: , Vol. 115, No. 11, 01.12.2013, p. 1626-1633.
  • "Caged naloxone reveals opioid signaling deactivation kineticss." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 84, No. 5, 11.2013, p. 687-695.
  • "Spontaneous inhibitory synaptic currents mediated by a g protein-coupled receptor." Neuron In: , Vol. 78, No. 5, 05.06.2013, p. 807-812.
  • "Increased agonist affinity at the μ-opioid receptor induced by prolonged agonist exposure." Journal of Neuroscience In: , Vol. 33, No. 9, 27.02.2013, p. 4118-4127.
  • "Regulation of μ-opioid receptors : Desensitization, phosphorylation, internalization, and tolerance." Pharmacological Reviews In: , Vol. 65, No. 1, 2013, p. 223-254.
  • "Morphine desensitization and cellular tolerance are distinguished in rat locus ceruleus neurons." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 82, No. 5, 11.2012, p. 983-992.
  • "Neuroscience : Promiscuous vesicles." Nature In: , Vol. 490, No. 7419, 11.10.2012, p. 178-179.
  • "Modulating Neuromodulation by Receptor Membrane Traffic in the Endocytic Pathway." Neuron In: , Vol. 76, No. 1, 04.10.2012, p. 22-32.
  • "SK2 and SK3 expression differentially affect firing frequency and precision in dopamine neurons." Neuroscience In: , Vol. 217, 16.08.2012, p. 67-76.
  • "Desensitization and trafficking of μ-opioid receptors in locus ceruleus neurons : Modulation by kinases." Molecular Pharmacology In: , Vol. 81, No. 3, 03.2012, p. 348-355.
  • "Opioid-sensitive GABA inputs from rostromedial tegmental nucleus synapse onto midbrain dopamine neurons." Journal of Neuroscience In: , Vol. 31, No. 48, 30.11.2011, p. 17729-17735.

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