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Michael Wesley

128 Medical Behavioral Science Building


  • Regular Faculty
  • Director, Neurobehavioral Systems Lab

College Unit(s)

Biography and Education


Dr. Michael Wesley continues to be extremely successful with his program and as Director of the Neurobehavioral Systems Lab (NSL) at the University of Kentucky (UK). He maintains 77% effort dedicated to research and creative activity through his involvement as PI/MPI on 3 extramurally funded grants. His research involves combining behavioral modeling, functional neuroimaging, and non-invasive brain stimulation to better understand the mechanistic complexities of learning, memory, and choice in individuals with cocaine, opioid, or cannabis use disorder. In 2022 his work resulted in several peer-reviewed publications and multiple book chapters in progress. He and his students also disseminated primary research results in podium and poster presentations at several local and national conferences throughout the year. Dr. Wesley dedicates 11.25% effort to service which includes his involvement in grant review for multiple UK centers and mentorship of four pre-tenure faculty spanning 2 colleges and 3 departments at UK. Dr. Wesley dedicates 9.75% effort to instruction, including overseeing the training of a primary graduate student and a primary undergraduate student in the NSL, as well as his involvement on 5 graduate-level Master’s and Ph.D. thesis committees. Lastly, Dr. Wesley dedicates 2% effort to professional development, including attending development seminars at national conventions and those hosted by various leadership factions at UK.


In his third year (07/01/2019 – 06/30/2020) as a regular title series Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavioral Science (Behavioral Science) and as Director of the Neurobehavioral Systems Lab (NSL) of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine (UK COM), Dr. Wesley continued to implement the work proposed in his three extramurally funded research awards, one as principal investigator (PI) and two as multiple principal investigator (MPI). Dr. Wesley also continued to grow the transdisciplinary and collaborative relationships of the NSL by serving as co-investigator (Co-I) on one extramurally funded research award, as Co-I on one extramural grant submission, and as MPI on one extramural grant submission. Simultaneously, Dr. Wesley continued his teaching and mentoring efforts of medical students, undergraduate students, and junior faculty peers. Dr. Wesley engaged in local and national service efforts as well as career and professional development opportunities. Consistent with collaborative work, Dr. Wesley was joint appointed as faculty in the Department of Psychiatry of UK COM and in the Department of Psychology of the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences (UK A&S).   

Dr. Wesley’s primary research effort is supported by three extramural grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Dr. Wesley’s career development and training award (K01 DA043652) examines the neural mechanisms of cannabinoid-impaired decision making in emerging adults. This project integrates rigorous methodological techniques from clinical pharmacology with innovative technologies from neuroscience, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). His MPI awards (R01 DA045023; R01 DA047368) are reciprocal translational projects together with Drs. Josh Lile (COM, Behavioral Science) and Josh Beckmann (UK A&S, Psychology). These projects combine animal and human models of addiction with neuroimaging and computational reinforcement learning models of behavior to examine dynamic choice related to cocaine and opioid use disorders. Dr. Wesley continued his involvement as Co-I on a fourth award (R01 DA036550) examining the possible pharmacological agents for cannabis dependence. Dr. Wesley submitted two additional extramural grants that are currently under review, one as MPI (R21 AA028502 with Drs. Mark Fillmore and Jessica Weafer of UK A&S, Psychology) and one as Co-I (R21 DA049130 with Dr. Bill Stoops, UK COM, Behavioral Science). Dr. Wesley served as co-author on a consensus manuscript published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (Impact Factor: 8.33) on the use of noninvasive brain stimulation in addiction medicine. He also served as senior author and co-author on two primary research manuscript submissions with first-author trainees Dr. Aaron Smith and Holly Allen, respectively. Dr. Wesley served as senior author on two scientific posters presented at the virtual conference of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) in June 2020. Dr. Wesley also presented his research in an invited Grand Rounds lecture in the Department of Psychiatry in UK COM. Lastly, Dr. Wesley developed and implemented the NSL’s remote work plan associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to help ensure the safety of NSL staff and trainees while maintaining research productivity.     

In terms of teaching and mentoring, Dr. Wesley was Preceptor to first-year medical students enrolled in his Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM; MD 811) class offered by Behavioral Science in UK COM. He was also Outside Examiner on the Dissertation Committee of Dr. Aaron Smith (UK A&S, Psychology), and continued to serve as an Advisory Committee Member to Catherine Troop in the Ph.D. program of the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling in the UK College of Education. Dr. Wesley continued his mentoring of Dr. Aaron Smith by hosting him as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the NSL and supporting his successful application on a drug abuse training grant (T32 DA035200). Dr. Wesley hosted one graduate student and one medical student for research training opportunities in the NSL (Holley C. Allen, UK A&S, Psychology; Cody Sutphin, UK COM). He also mentored Skylar Mays, an engineering undergraduate student, enrolled in the Independent Work in Neuroscience class (BIO 395). Finally, Dr. Wesley helped mentor two junior faculty members in experimental design and grant writing strategies, including Dr. Gopalkumar Rakesh of UK COM Psychiatry and Dr. Geetanjali Gera in the Department of Physical Therapy of the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences. Relatedly, Dr. Wesley will serve as Co-I on an extramural grant submission in 2021 with Dr. Rakesh.    

Dr. Wesley continued his involvement in the career development and training activities supported by his career development and training award (K01 DA043652) and engaged in additional professional development opportunities offered at UK. He continued receiving senior faculty mentorship in good clinical practices in research, with an emphasis on his clinical pharmacology and noninvasive brain stimulation work. He also attended training and educational seminars hosted by the UK Office of the Vice President for Research (UK VPR) on implicit bias, responsible conduct of research, and research misconduct. 

In terms of local service, Dr. Wesley began a three-year commitment serving on the Biomedical and Education Committee of UK COM. He also joined the Stress and Wellness Committee of Behavioral Science. He also served as an ad hoc grant reviewer for the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). Dr. Wesley served as organizer and moderator for an education session titled, Success Stories: Insights from a Panel of Early Career Faculty Members on How to Launch a Productive Research Program hosted by UK VPR’s office. He also served as a member of the new Cognitive Neuroscience Group in the Department of Psychology in UK A&S. In terms of national service, Dr. Wesley was as ad-hoc reviewer on eight manuscripts submitted to Addiction Biology, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, NeuroImage, PLOS One, and Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.


Dr. Wesley uses neuroimaging, noninvasive brain stimulation, clinical pharmacology and behavioral techniques to understand neurobehavioral dysfunctions existing in many clinical disorders, especially those characterized by a lack of volitional control over thoughts, feelings and actions. His primary research focuses on deficits in decision-making and affective processes in individuals with substance use disorders, however, he is also interested in other conditions with overlapping symptomatology including stroke and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Selected Publications

Wesley MJ*, Vilares I*, Ahn WY, Bonnie RJ, Hoffman M, Jones OD, Morse SJ, Yaffe G, Lohrenz T, Montague PR (2017) Predicting the knowledge-recklessness distinction in the human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114(12): 3222-7. *Equal Contribution 

Wesley MJ, Lile JA, Fillmore MT, Porrino LJ (2017) Neurophysiological capacity in a working memory task differentiates dependent from nondependent heavy drinkers and controls. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In press

Wesley MJ, Lile JA, Hanlon CA, Porrino LJ (2016) Abnormal medial prefrontal cortex activity in heavy cannabis users during conscious emotional evaluation. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 233(6): 1035-44. 

Lile JA, Wesley MJ, Kelly TH, Hays LR (2016). Separate and combined effects of gabapentin and ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol in humans discriminating ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinols. Behavioural pharmacology. 27(2-3 Spec Issue): 215-24. 

Wesley MJ, Lohrenz T, Koffarnus MN, McClure SM, De La Garza R, 2nd, Salas R, Thompson-Lake DG, Newton TF, Bickel WK, Montague PR (2014) Choosing money over drugs: The neural underpinnings of difficult choice in chronic cocaine users. Journal of addiction. 189853. 

Wesley MJ, Bickel WK (2014). Remember the Future II: Meta-analyses and Functional Overlap of Working Memory and Delay Discounting. Biological Psychiatry. 75(6): 435-48. 

Moussa MN, Wesley MJ, Porrino LJ, Hayasaka S, Bechara A, Burdette JH, Laurienti PJ (2014) Age-related differences in advantageous decision making are associated with distinct differences in functional community structure. Brain connectivity. 4(3): 193-202. 

Wesley MJ, Hanlon CA, Porrino LJ (2011)Poor decision-making by chronic marijuana users is associated with decreased functional responsiveness to negative consequences. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 191(1): 51-9. 

Hanlon CA, Wesley MJ, Stapleton JR, Laurienti PJ, Porrino LJ (2011) The association between frontal-striatal connectivity and sensorimotor control in cocaine users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 115(3): 240-3.  

Hanlon CA, Wesley MJ, Roth AJ, Miller MD, Porrino LJ (2010) Loss of laterality in chronic cocaine users: an fMRI investigation of sensorimotor control. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 181(1): 15-23.





Mental States:………………