Professor Gavan P. McNally

Professor Gavan P. McNally

Professor Gavan P. McNally



Contact details

Phone: (02) 9385 3044
Email: Professor Gavan P. McNally
Fax: (02) 9385 3641

Office: Mathews, Room 512

Research Summary

Our research is concerned with the fundamental psychological and brain mechanisms for learning and motivation, and how these apply to clinical conditions such as addictions, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. We are interested in identiyfing these mechanisms, at the cellular, circuit, and systems level. We are also interested in translating this fundamental information into next generation treatments of psychological conditions.

To do this, we adopt a systems neuroscience approach. Our work ranges from non-human animals to humans and combines behavioural approaches from experimental psychology with  a variety of approaches from neuroscience (circuit tracing, optogenetics, chemogenetics, fibre photometry, head-mounted minimicroscopes) to map and manipulate the brain at the cellular and circuit levels. 

The lab currently comprises 4 postdoctoral fellows, 5 PhD students, 1 honours student, and several undergraduate assistants. You are welcome to join us. Please contact me if you would like to join us as a student, intern, or visitor.


PSYC2081 Learning & Physiological Psychology

PSYC3051 Physiological Psychology

NEUR2201 Neuroscience Fundamentals


For a full list see my UNSW Research Gateway Profile

Yau, J.O.-Y., Chaichim, C., Power, J.M., & McNally, G.P. (2021). The role of basolateral amygdala parvalbumin neurons in Pavlovian fear conditioning. The Journal of Neuroscience, in press.

Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Tran, J., Didachos, A., & McNally, G.P. (2021). Instrumental aversion coding in the basoalateral amygdala and its reversion by a benzodiazepine. Neuropsychopharmacology, in press.

Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Lee, J., Weidemann, G., Lovibond, P.F, & McNally, G.P. (2021). Punishment insensitivity in humans is due to failures in instrumental contingency learning. eLife, 10:e69594.

Peng, C.Y., Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Gilchrist, S., & Power, J.M., & McNally, G.P. (2021). Phasic inhibition of dopamine neurons serves as an instrumental punisher. Behavioral Neuroscience, 135, 415-425.

McNally, G.P. (2021). Motivational competition and the paraventricular thalamus. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 125, 193-207.

Bouton, M.E., Maren, S., & McNally, G.P. (2021). Behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of Pavlovian and instrumental extinction learning. Physiological Reviews, 101, 611-681.

Liu, Y., Jean-Richard-Dit-Bressel, P., Yau, J.O.Y., Willing., A., Prasad, A.A. Power, J.M., Killcross, A.S., Clifford, C.W.G., & McNally, G.P. (2020). The mesolimbic dopamine activity signatures of relapse to alcohol-seeking. The Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 6409-6427.

Prasad, A.A., Xie, C., Chaichim, C., Nguyen, J., McClusky, H., Killcross, S., Power, J.M., & McNally, G.P. (2020). Complementary roles for ventral pallidum cell types and their projections in relapse.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 880-893.

Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Ma, C., Bradfield, L., Killcross, S., & McNally, G.P. (2019). Punishment insensitivity emerges from impaired contingency detection, not aversion insensitivity or reward dominance. eLife, 8:e52765.

Jean Richard dit Bressel, P.,  & McNally, G.P. (2019). Visualizing infralimbic control over cocaine seeking. Neuron, 103, 1 - 3.

Choi, E.A., Jean Richard dit Bressel, P., Clifford, C.W.G., & McNally, G.P. (2019). Paraventricular thalamus controls behavior during motivational conflict. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39, 4945-4958.

Gibson, G.D., Prasad, A.A., Jean Richard dit Bressel, P., Yau, J.O.Y., Millan, E.Z., Liu, Y., Campbell, E.J., Marchant, N.J., Lim, J., Power, J.M., Killcross, S., Lawrence, A.J., & McNally, G.P. (2018). Distinct accumbens shell output pathways promote versus prevent relapse to alcohol seeking. Neuron, 98, 512-520.

Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Killcross, S., & McNally, G.P. (2018). Behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of punishment: Implications for psychiatric disorders.  Neuropsychopharmacology, 43, 1639-1650.

Sengupta, A., Yau, J.O.Y, Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel, P., Liu, Y., Millan, E.Z., Power, J.M., & McNally, G.P. (2018). Basolateral amygdala neurons maintain aversive emotional salience. The Journal of Neuroscience, 38, 3001-3012.

Yau, J.O.Y. & McNally, G.P., (2018). Rules for aversive learning and decision making. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 26, 1 - 8.

Yau, J.O.Y., & McNally, G.P. (2018). Brain mechanisms controlling Pavlovian fear conditioning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 44, 341-357.

Prasad, A.A. & McNally, G.P. (2018). Alcohol abuse and the ventral pallidum. In, The Neuroscience of Alcohol: Mechanisms and Treatment (V.R. Preedy Ed). Elsevier.

Choi, E.A. & McNally, G.P. (2017). Paraventricular thalamus balances danger and reward. The Journal of Neuroscience, 37, 3018 - 3029.

Millan, E.Z., Ong, Z.Y., & McNally, G.P. (2017). Paraventricular thalamus: Gateway to feeding, appetitive motivation, and drug addiction. Progress in Brain Research, 235, 113-137.

Prasad, A.A. & McNally, G.P. (2016). Ventral pallidum output pathways in context-induced reinstatement of alcohol seeking. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 11716-11726.

Sengupta, A. Winters, B., Bagley, E.E., & McNally, G.P. (2016). Disrupted prediction error links excessive amygdala activation to excessive fear. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 385-395.

Yau, J.O.Y. & McNally, G.P. (2015). Pharmacogenetic excitation of prefrontal cortex neurons restores fear prediction error. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35, 74-83.

Bagley E.E., Hacker J., Chefer, V.I., Mallet, C., McNally G.P., Chieng, B.C.H. Perroud, J., Shippenberg, T.S., & Christie M.J. (2011). Drug-induced GABA transporter currents enhance GABA release and produce opioid withdrawal behaviors. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 1548-1554.

McNally, G.P., Johansen, J., & Blair, H.T. (2011). Placing prediction into the fear circuit. Trends in Neurosciences, 34, 283 - 292.

Marchant, N.J., Furlong, T.M., & McNally, G.P. (2010). Medial dorsal hypothalamus mediates the inhibition of reward seeking after extinction.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 14102-14115.

Marchant, N., Hamlin, A.S., & McNally, G.P.  (2009). Lateral hypothalamus is required for context-induced reinstatement of reward seeking. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 1331-1342.

Millan, Z., Furlong, T.M., & McNally, G.P. (2010). Accumbens shell –hypothalamus interactions mediate extinction of reward seeking. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 4626 – 4635.

Iordanova, M., McNally, G.P., & Westbrook, R.F. (2006). Opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens regulate attentional learning in the blocking paradigm. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 4036-4045. 

McNally, G.P., Pigg, M., & Weidemann, G. (2004). Opioid receptors in the midbrain periaqueductal gray matter regulate the extinction of Pavlovian fear conditioning. The Journal of Neuroscience, 24, 6912-6919.

Awards, Fellowships & Grants


Pavlovian Research Award (Pavlovian Society)
Rising Star (Association for Psychological Science)
D.G. Marquis Behavioral Neuroscience Award (American Psychological Association)


Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences Australia
Fellow, The American Psychological Association
Fellow, The Association for Psychological Science

Affiliations & Memberships

Current Editorial Positions:

Senior Editor – The Journal of Neuroscience
Associate Editor - Neurobiology of Learning & Memory
Consulting Editor – Behavioral Neuroscience

Current Research Students

Sophia Gilchrist
Eddie Wise
Si Yin Lui