Neurophysiology of Psychiatric Diseases

The goal of the Pleil Lab at Weill Cornell is to identify and characterize the neural mechanisms of addiction and comorbid anxiety and affective neuropsychiatric disorders. Given the high degree of comorbidity between addiction and anxiety/mood disorders in women but the dearth of fundamental knowledge about the underpinnings of these neuropsychiatric diseases, we are particularly interested in the circuit and synaptic mechanisms of drug use and stress responsivity, as well as the plasticity that contributes to the development of disease states. Specifically, we focus on the role of sex 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 molecular, physiological, and behavioral techniques, including neuronal tracing, in situ hybridization, slice electrophysiology, 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

follow Kristen on Twitter       connect on LinkedIn

Mary Jane Skelly

Postdoctoral Fellow

Mary Jane joined the Pleil Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2017. She earned her PhD in Neuroscience in Jeff Weiner’s lab at Wake Forest School of Medicine, where she studied the neuroadaptations linking adolescent stress exposure to increased anxiety, excessive alcohol intake, and disrupted fear and extinction learning in later life. Prior to joining Dr. Weiner’s lab Mary Jane studied accumbal modulation of palatable food intake as an MA student in Wayne Pratt’s lab at Wake Forest. She is generally interested in identifying pathological alterations in the neural circuits underlying motivated behavior.

Sydney Rowson

Postdoctoral Fellow

Aaron Garcia

Postdoctoral Fellow

Pasha Ghazal

Visiting postdoctoral Fulbright scholar

Olivia Levine

Graduate Student (Neuroscience)

Livi graduated from Brandeis University in 2013, where she majored neuroscience and biology. She completed her senior thesis research in the laboratory of Steven Goldstein, where she studied the biophysical properties of voltage-gated potassium channels. She is now a fifth year neuroscience PhD candidate studying how estrogen signaling alters neuronal function in thalamo-limbic circuits involved in addiction and affective disorders.

Jean Rivera

Graduate Student (Neuroscience)

Jean joined the lab in 2017. He is this happy even when he is in the midst of running a massive mouse behavior experiment.

Lia Zallar

Graduate 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.

John Miller

Research Technician

John joined the lab in 2017 after graduating from Union College with a degree in Bioengineering. He is spearheading efforts to utilize in vivo and ex vivo biosensor imaging techniques in our research.



Available positions

bw-nycWe are recruiting a new research technician! If you are a motivated college grad interested in a research technician position in the Pleil lab, let us know about yourself.