Francesco Leri

Neuroscience & Applied Cognitive Science
519-824-4120 x58264
MacKinnon Extension
Office Hours: 

Fall 2015: Mondays from 10 to 12


Accepting Graduate Students: 
Accepting New Experiential Learning Students: 

Francesco Leri is a full Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Guelph.

His general area of expertise is Behavioural Pharmacology and Neuroscience.  Dr. Leri investigates psychological and neuropharmacological mechanisms involved in the development, persistence and recurrence of behaviours reinforced by chemical (cocaine, heroin, oxycodone) and natural (monosaccharaides and disaccharides) rewards.  Through psychological (i.e., conditioning), pharmacological and neurobiological experimentations in laboratory animals, his studies have been providing basic scientific knowledge critical to the understanding of hedonic processes, reinforcement monarchisms, as well as addictions and their long-term treatments.

Current projects are: 1) neuropharmacology of reinforcing stimuli (funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada); 2) food addiction: studies of bio-behavioral links between nutrition and obesity (funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research); and 3) biomarkers of hedonic responses (pre-clinical project of the Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression funded by the Ontario Brain Institute).  

Dr. Leri is actively involved in undergraduate and graduate teaching and research supervision, and he is currently serving as Chair of the Department of Psychology.




Undergraduate (1990-1993): Experimental Psychology, McGill University, Montreal

Graduate (1993-1999): Master (Dr. M. Petrides) and PhD (Dr. K.B.J. Franklin) in Experimental Psychology, McGill University, Montreal

Post-Graduate (1999-2002): Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology (Dr. J. Stewart) Concordia University, Montreal



Dr. Leri has been consistently funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to support his first program of research involving the study of neurobiological mechanism implicated in relapse to reward seeking.  In recent years, he has discovered that: 1) relapse involves a reacquisition process dependent on central dopaminergic and noradrenergic activity; 2) reacquisition of reward seeking involves an interaction between the prefrontal cortex and the basolateral amygdala; and 3) stress-induced relapse involves activation of central noradrenergic and vasopressin systems.  This work has been published in top tier journals in the field, and it is internationally recognized as valuable for the development of more effective pharmacological relapse prevention strategies.


The second program was initially funded by a New Emerging Team grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The general focus of this grant was comorbid psychopathologies.  Dr. Leri’s approach to the study of comorbidity took three primary directions.  First, he characterized poly-drug abuse (opioid-cocaine) in humans and laboratory rats, and demonstrated a critical role of the mu- and kappa-endogenous opioid systems in cocaine and heroin addiction, respectively. Second, he characterized behavioral and neurochemical phenotypes of sensitivity to cocaine and oxycodone, discovering that these are only partially overlapping.  Finally, he discovered a phenotype that may predispose individuals to the development of both substance and food addictions.  This latter discovery generated significant international interest from colleagues and the media because of the phenomenon of “globesity” described by the World Health Organization. 


The link between food, reward and addiction is the primary focus of his third research program currently funded by CIHR (catalyst grant) and by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI).  The planned studies rely on a new method pioneered in his laboratory: intraoral self-administration in rats.  This method combines the surgical component of taste reactivity with the behavioural aspects of operant self-administration of drugs.  Thus, rats are implanted with an intraoral (IO) cannula that allows delivery of test solutions directly in the oral cavity. A number of experiments were designed and performed to study the reinforcing effect of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) using procedures that are typically employed to study the reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse in rats. The results have been recently published in the journal Nutrients. The OBI grant supports a large network of Canadian scientists studying biomarkers of depression (CAN-BIND: The Canadian Biomarker Integration Network for Depression).  Within this network, our the basic studies in animals have been designed to address three specific questions: 1) can dietary stimuli produce a state on anhedonia?; 2) is this state associated with a particular pattern of gene expression in the brain?; 3) can antidepressants alleviate this state of anhedonia and associated gene expression in the brain?


Selected Publications


Recent publications (updated: October 2015)

Cummins Jacklin E, Boughner E, Kent K, Kwiatkowski D, MacDonald T, Leri F.
Memory of a drug lapse: Role of noradrenaline. Neuropharmacology. 2015 Jul
18;99:98-105. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2015.07.020. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed
PMID: 26192542.

Levy A, Marshall P, Zhou Y, Kreek MJ, Kent K, Daniels S, Shore A, Downs T,
Fernandes MF, Mutch DM, Leri F. Fructose:glucose ratios--a study of sugar
self-administration and associated neural and physiological responses in the rat.
Nutrients. 2015 May 22;7(5):3869-90. doi: 10.3390/nu7053869. PubMed PMID:
26007337; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4446784.

Tanguay H, Zadra A, Good D, Leri F. Relationship between drug dreams, affect, 
and craving during treatment for substance dependence. J Addict Med. 2015
Mar-Apr;9(2):123-9. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000105. PubMed PMID: 25700139.

Zhou Y, Leri F, Cummins E, Kreek MJ. Individual differences in gene expression
of vasopressin, D2 receptor, POMC and orexin: vulnerability to relapse to
heroin-seeking in rats. Physiol Behav. 2015 Feb;139:127-35. doi:
10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.11.002. Epub 2014 Nov 9. PubMed PMID: 25446223; PubMed
Central PMCID: PMC4275356.

Ryu J, Horkayne-Szakaly I, Xu L, Pletnikova O, Leri F, Eberhart C, Troncoso
JC, Koliatsos VE. The problem of axonal injury in the brains of veterans with
histories of blast exposure. Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2014 Nov 25;2:153. doi:
10.1186/s40478-014-0153-3. PubMed PMID: 25422066; PubMed Central PMCID:

Minhas M, Leri F. The effect of heroin dependence on resumption of heroin
self-administration in rats. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 May 1;138:24-31. doi:
10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.01.007. Epub 2014 Feb 7. PubMed PMID: 24613630.

Turner PV, Sunohara-Neilson J, Ovari J, Healy A, Leri F. Effects of single
compared with pair housing on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and
low-dose heroin place conditioning in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats. J Am Assoc 
Lab Anim Sci. 2014 Mar;53(2):161-7. PubMed PMID: 24602542; PubMed Central PMCID: 

Levy A, Limebeer CL, Ferdinand J, Shillingford U, Parker LA, Leri F. A novel
procedure for evaluating the reinforcing properties of tastants in laboratory
rats: operant intraoral self-administration. J Vis Exp. 2014 Feb 6;(84):e50956.
doi: 10.3791/50956. PubMed PMID: 24561923.

Allen CP, Leri F. Perseveration in the presence of punishment: the effects of 
chronic cocaine exposure and lesions to the prefrontal cortex. Behav Brain Res.
2014 Mar 15;261:185-92. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.12.025. Epub 2013 Dec 28. PubMed 
PMID: 24380673.

Rkieh N, Cloke JM, Gallagher N, Winters BD, Leri F. Drugs of abuse as memory 
modulators: a study of cocaine in rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2014
Jun;231(11):2339-48. doi: 10.1007/s00213-013-3390-4. Epub 2013 Dec 13. PubMed
PMID: 24337026.

Cloke JM, Rkieh N, Leri F. Effect of post-training administration of cocaine,
diazepam and their combination on a win-stay task. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2014 
Jan;116:69-74. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2013.11.010. Epub 2013 Nov 15. PubMed PMID:

Cummins E, Boughner E, Leri F. Cue-induced renewal of heroin place
preference: involvement of the basolateral amygdala. Neuroreport. 2014 Mar
26;25(5):297-302. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000084. PubMed PMID: 24201450.

Zhou Y, Leri F, Ho A, Kreek MJ. Suppression of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal
axis by acute heroin challenge in rats during acute and chronic withdrawal from
chronic heroin administration. Neurochem Res. 2013 Sep;38(9):1850-60. doi:
10.1007/s11064-013-1091-3. Epub 2013 Jun 16. PubMed PMID: 23771528; PubMed
Central PMCID: PMC3735680.