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Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, PhD

Assistant Professor
  • Associate Director, Center for Health Behaviors Research
  • Focus area(s): Food choice and food reward; neuroscience and metabolism
A Virginia Tech HNFE faculty member stands outside for a photo.
Riverside 2
CHBR Suite
Roanoke, VA
  • Graduate Program Track(s): Molecular & Cellular Science


Ph.D., Psychology, University of Michigan, 2013

BS, Psychology, Sweet Briar College, 2008


2020 – present: Associate Director, Center for Health Behaviors Research, Virginia Tech, Roanoke, VA

2019 – present: Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

2018 – 2019: Associate Research Scientist, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Selected Major Awards

  • 2022 – Mentor of the Month, Virginia Tech Graduate School
  • 2021 – Timothy J. Bartness Award, Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior
  • 2020 – Selected as an Invited Scholar in the integrated Translational Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) Scholar Program, iTHRIV
  • 2019 – Travel Award to NIDDK Neuroimaging and Modulation in Obesity and Diabetes 10th Anniversary Meeting, NIDDK

Program Focus

The modern diet is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. We know what we should be eating, but lack the ability to promote change. Led by principal investigator Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D., our lab seeks to understand the basic mechanisms of food choice. We approach this issue in two ways. One, we seek to isolate properties of foods in our modern food environment to evaluate their effect on physiology, brain function, and brain-physiology interaction. Second, we seek to understand how individual differences in response to these food properties can confer risk or benefit for disease outcomes. 

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Selected Recent Publications

  • Edwin Thanarajah S, DiFeliceantonio AG, Albus K, Kuzmanovic B, Rigoux L, Iglesias S, Hanßen R, Schlamann M, Cornely OA, Brüning JC, Tittgemeyer M, Small DM. Habitual daily intake of a sweet and fatty snack modulates reward processing in humans. Cell Metab. 2023 Apr 4;35(4):571-584.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2023.02.015. Epub 2023 Mar 22. PMID: 36958330.
  • Gearhardt AN, DiFeliceantonio AG. Highly processed foods can be considered addictive substances based on established scientific criteria. Addiction. 2023 Apr;118(4):589-598. doi: 10.1111/add.16065. Epub 2022 Nov 9. PMID: 36349900.
  • Kelly AL, Baugh ME, Oster ME, DiFeliceantonio AG. The impact of caloric availability on eating behavior and ultra-processed food reward. Appetite. 2022 Nov 1;178:106274. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2022.106274. Epub 2022 Aug 10. PMID: 35963586; PMCID: PMC9749763.
  • Perszyk EE, Hutelin Z, Trinh J, Kanyamibwa A, Fromm S, Davis XS, Wall KM, Flack KD, DiFeliceantonio AG, Small DM. Fat and Carbohydrate Interact to Potentiate Food Reward in Healthy Weight but Not in Overweight or Obesity. Nutrients. 2021 Apr 6;13(4):1203. doi: 10.3390/nu13041203. PMID: 33917347; PMCID: PMC8067354.
  • Small DM, DiFeliceantonio AG. Processed foods and food reward. Science. 2019 Jan 25;363(6425):346-347. doi: 10.1126/science.aav0556. PMID: 30679360.
  • Thanarajah SE, Backes H, DiFeliceantonio AG, Albus K, Cremer AL, Hanssen R, Lippert RN, Cornely OA, Small DM, Brüning JC, Tittgemeyer M. Food Intake Recruits Orosensory and Post-ingestive Dopaminergic Circuits to Affect Eating Desire in Humans. Cell Metab. 2019 Mar 5;29(3):695-706.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.12.006. Epub 2018 Dec 27. PMID: 30595479.
  • DiFeliceantonio AG, Coppin G, Rigoux L, Edwin Thanarajah S, Dagher A, Tittgemeyer M, Small DM. Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward. Cell Metab. 2018 Jul 3;28(1):33-44.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.05.018. Epub 2018 Jun 14. PMID: 29909968.