Photo of Markus Heilig

Markus Heilig

Professor, Head of Division


Markus Heilig received his MD and PhD from Lund University, Sweden, 1986 and 1989, resp. He was a post-doc at The Scripps Research Institute, LaJolla, CA 1990 – 1992. Upon returning to Sweden, he completed clinical training in psychiatry, and then served at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, in various clinical and academic leadership capacities until 2004.

At this time, he became the director of intramural clinical and translational research at the National Inst on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

In 2015, Heilig was recruited back to Sweden and Linköping Univ as professor of psychiatry, and founding director of a new Center on Social and Affective Neuroscience supported by the Swedish Research Council, Linköping University and the region of Östergötland. 

Heilig’s program currently studies brain processes and long-term neuroadaptations involved in addiction, with the objective to discover novel mechanisms that can be targeted for pharmacotherapies. It uses endophenotype based approaches that span across diagnostic categories.

From an initial focus on stress-mediated mechanisms, it has recently expanded the scope of its research to take into account the critical role of choices between drug- and natural rewards, as well as the critical role of social factors in addiction and other psychiatric disorders.

Ongoing studies seek to integrate these behavioral processes with an understanding of their neural substrates. 

Research strategies in the program span from analysis of gene expression and its epigenetic programming, through behavioral pharmacology in rodent models, to human experimental medicine that utilizes behavioral, neuroendocrine, psychophysiological and functional brain imaging based methods.

This research has in total generated some 230 peer-reviewed journal articles, including papers that have appeared in Science, PNAS, Lancet and other high impact journals, yielding >12000 citations, and an h-index of 60.

Recent key reviews

  1. Heilig M, Barbier E, Johnstone AL, Tapocik J, Meinhardt MW, Pfarr S, Wahlestedt C, Sommer WH. 2017. Reprogramming of mPFC transcriptome and function in alcohol dependence. Genes Brain and Behavior 16: 86-100

  2. Heilig M, Epstein DH, Nader MA, Shaham Y. 2016. Time to connect: bringing social context into addiction neuroscience. Nat Rev Neurosci 17: 592-9

  3. Schank JR, Ryabinin AE, Giardino WJ, Ciccocioppo R, Heilig M. 2012. Stress-related neuropeptides and addictive behaviors: beyond the usual suspects. Neuron 76: 192-208

  4. Heilig M, Goldman D, Berrettini W, O'Brien CP. 2011. Pharmacogenetic approaches to the treatment of alcohol addiction. Nat Rev Neurosci 12: 670-84

  5. Heilig M, Thorsell A, Sommer WH, Hansson AC, Ramchandani VA, George DT, Hommer D, Barr CS. 2010. Translating the neuroscience of alcoholism into clinical treatments: from blocking the buzz to curing the blues. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 35: 334-44

Recent key empirical papers

  1. Augier E, Barbier E, Dulman RS, Licheri V, Augier G, Domi E, Barchiesi R, Farris S, Natt D, Mayfield RD, Adermark L, Heilig M. 2018. A molecular mechanism for choosing alcohol over an alternative reward. Science 360: 1321-6

  2. Mayo LM, Asratian A, Linde J, Holm L, Natt D, Augier G, Stensson N, Vecchiarelli HA, Balsevich G, Aukema RJ, Ghafouri B, Spagnolo PA, Lee FS, Hill MN, Heilig M. 2018. Protective effects of elevated anandamide on stress and fear-related behaviors: translational evidence from humans and mice. Mol Psychiatry, 10.1038/s41380-018-0215-1

  3. Barbier E, Johnstone AL, Khomtchouk BB, Tapocik JD, Pitcairn C, Rehman F, Augier E, Borich A, Schank JR, Rienas CA, Van Booven DJ, Sun H, Natt D, Wahlestedt C, Heilig M. 2017. Dependence-induced increase of alcohol self-administration and compulsive drinking mediated by the histone methyltransferase PRDM2. Molecular Psychiatry 22: 1746-58

  4. Barbier E, Tapocik JD, Juergens N, Pitcairn C, Borich A, Schank JR, Sun H, Schuebel K, Zhou Z, Yuan Q, Vendruscolo LF, Goldman D, Heilig M. 2015. DNA methylation in the medial prefrontal cortex regulates alcohol-induced behavior and plasticity. J Neurosci 35: 6153-64

  5. Tapocik JD, Barbier E, Flanigan M, Solomon M, Pincus A, Pilling A, Sun H, Schank JR, King C, Heilig M. 2014. microRNA-206 in rat medial prefrontal cortex regulates BDNF expression and alcohol drinking. Journal of Neuroscience 34: 4581-8

  6. Hirvonen J, Zanotti-Fregonara P, Umhau JC, George DT, Rallis-Frutos D, Lyoo CH, Li CT, Hines CS, Sun H, Terry GE, Morse C, Zoghbi SS, Pike VW, Innis RB, Heilig M. 2013. Reduced cannabinoid CB1 receptor binding in alcohol dependence measured with positron emission tomography. Molecular Psychiatry 18: 916-21

  7. Schank JR, Tapocik JD, Barbier E, Damadzic R, Eskay RL, Sun H, Rowe KE, King CE, Yao M, Flanigan ME, Solomon MG, Karlsson C, Cheng K, Rice KC, Heilig M. 2013. Tacr1 gene variation and neurokinin 1 receptor expression is associated with antagonist efficacy in genetically selected alcohol-preferring rats. Biological Psychiatry 73: 774-81

  8. Ramchandani VA, Umhau J, Pavon FJ, Ruiz-Velasco V, Margas W, Sun H, Damadzic R, Eskay R, Schoor M, Thorsell A, Schwandt ML, Sommer WH, George DT, Parsons LH, Herscovitch P, Hommer D, Heilig M. 2011. A genetic determinant of the striatal dopamine response to alcohol in men. Molecular Psychiatry 16: 809-17

  9. George DT, Gilman J, Hersh J, Thorsell A, Herion D, Geyer C, Peng X, Kielbasa W, Rawlings R, Brandt JE, Gehlert DR, Tauscher JT, Hunt SP, Hommer D, Heilig M. 2008. Neurokinin 1 receptor antagonism as a possible therapy for alcoholism. Science 319: 1536-9



Latest publications generated from LiU DiVA


Irene Perini, Arthur Pabst, Diana Martinez, Pierre Maurage, Markus Heilig (2024) Modeling social cognition in alcohol use disorder: lessons from schizophrenia Psychopharmacology Continue to DOI
Michele Petrella, Anna Maria Borruto, Lorenzo Curti, Ana Domi, Esi Domi, Li Xu, Estelle Barbier, Alice Ilari, Markus Heilig, Friedbert Weiss, Guido Mannaioni, Alessio Masi, Roberto Ciccocioppo (2024) Pharmacological blockage of NOP receptors decreases ventral tegmental area dopamine neuronal activity through GABAB receptor-mediated mechanism Neuropharmacology, Vol. 248, Article 109866 Continue to DOI
Michal Pietrzak, Adam Yngve, Paul J. Hamilton, Anna Asratian, Emelie Gauffin, Andreas Löfberg, Sarah Gustavson, Emil Persson, Andrea Johansson Capusan, Lorenzo Leggio, Irene Perini, Gustav Tinghög, Markus Heilig, Rebecca Böhme (2024) Ghrelin decreases sensitivity to negative feedback and increases prediction-error related caudate activity in humans, a randomized controlled trial Neuropsychopharmacology, Vol. 49, p. 1042-1049 Continue to DOI



Research leader and experiment participant with electrodes on her chin.

The brain’s cannabinoid system protects against addiction

High levels of the body’s own cannabinoid substances protect against developing addiction in individuals previously exposed to childhood maltreatment, according to a new study from Linköping University.

How fear memories get stuck in some brains

Researchers at Linköping University have discovered a biological mechanism that increases the strength with which fear memories are stored in the brain. The study identifies shared mechanisms behind anxiety and alcohol dependence.

Professor Markus Heilig.

First international donation

Linköping University has received its first international donation. Ingrid Bock, resident in the US, has donated to Professor Markus Heilig’s internationally renowned research on new ways to treat addiction.