Neurophysiology of Psychiatric Diseases

The goal of the Pleil Lab at Weill Cornell Medicine is to identify and characterize the neural mechanisms of neuropsychiatric diseases including alcohol and substance use disorders, anxiety, and affective disorders. Given the high degree of comorbidity between these diseases, especially in women, but the dearth of fundamental knowledge about the underpinnings of these neuropsychiatric diseases, we are interested in the sex-dependent circuit and synaptic mechanisms of drug use and stress responsivity, as well as the plasticity that contributes to the development of disease states. We have a particular focus on the roles of sex and stress hormones in 1) the organization of behaviorally-relevant limbic circuits, 2) the activity of cell type- and projection-defined neuronal populations within these circuits, and 3) the receptor-specific signaling of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters at critical synaptic nodes. Using a number of complementary techniques in mice, including behavior, slice electrophysiology, neuronal tracing, in situ hybridization and RNA sequencing, immunohistochemistry and Western blot, and in vivo and ex vivo optogenetics, chemogenetics, and biosensor imaging, we analyze neural mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disease states at the anatomical, molecular, cellular, synaptic, circuit, and behavioral levels.

Weill Cornell Medicine          WCM Pharmacology Department          WCM Pharmacology Graduate Program         WCM Neuroscience Graduate Program


A description of the projects going on in the lab is coming soon!


Kristen Pleil

Principal Investigator

Kristen began her position as an Assistant Professor in the Pharmacology Department at WCM in June 2016. She received her PhD in 2010 from Duke University, where she studied estrogen-mediated neural plasticity during learning and memory. She then completed her postdoc in the laboratory of Thomas Kash at the UNC School of Medicine, where she characterized neuropeptide signaling mechanisms of binge alcohol drinking and investigated the effects of chronic exposure to stress and alcohol on limbic circuits.      Kristen Pleil CV

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Lia Zallar

PhD Student (Pharmacology)

Lia joined the lab in fall 2019. She graduated from Reed College with a degree in Neuroscience, and her undergraduate research focused on ghrelin signaling in appetitive reward and alcohol use. Lia did a post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where she conducted translational research collaborations in Dr. Lorenzo Leggio’s laboratory at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Dr. George Koob’s laboratory at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is interested in aromatase activity in estrogen modulation of circuits linked to alcohol use and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Peter Hamor

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Irena Pigulevskiy

PhD student (Pharmacology)

Irena graduated with a degree in Pharmacology from Stony Brook University, where her undergraduate research focused on oligodendrocyte development and plasticity. She was then a laboratory technician for two years at Columbia University Medical Center studying the maturation of striatal neurons before starting graduate school. Irena joined the Pleil lab in 2022, where she focuses on characterizing the mechanisms by which estrogen dynamically regulates the function of neuropeptidergic neurons in the BNST through signaling at the membrane.

Dezhi Liu

Research Technician

Dezhi graduated from Boston University with honors in Psychology and Neuroscience. His undergraduate study focused on understanding Sprague Dawley rats’ variations in the modulation of paired pulse inhibition by dopaminergic drugs. Since joining the Pleil lab in 2021, he has been involved in several projects including the examination of sex differences in ventral hippocampal circuits during opioid-context learning and memory, as well as the hormone-sensitive activity of CRF neurons in the BNST during alcohol drinking and avoidance behavior in females. Dezhi is currently preparing to apply for MD/PhD programs.

Jacqueline Welday

PhD Student (Neuroscience)

Jacqueline graduated from the University of Michigan with an honors degree in Neuroscience in 2019 where she worked in the lab of Dr. Henry Paulson. She then worked as a post-baccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Andres Buonanno studying the regulation of dopamine dynamics by the Neuregulin/ErbB4 signaling pathway, particularly in neuropsychiatric disorders. She joined the Pleil Lab in 2023 and currently investigates estrogen modulation of neural circuits controlling the HPA axis response to stress.

Scottie Nelson

Research Technician



We are recruiting a research technician!

bw-nycWe are currently recruiting a new research technician with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience or related field and experience/interest in mouse behavior, computational data analysis, engineering, and other wet lab/physiology approaches. Let us know about yourself!