Neurophysiology of Addiction, Anxiety, and Affective Disorders

The goal of the Pleil Lab at Weill Cornell is to identify and characterize the neural circuit 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 sex differences in the circuit and synaptic mechanisms of addictive and affective behaviors and 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, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, slice electrophysiology, and in vivo and ex vivo optogenetics and chemogenetics, we are able to analyze neural circuit mechanisms of addiction and mood disorders 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 in Christina Williams’ lab. 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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Mary Jane Skelly

Postdoctoral Fellow

Mary Jane joined the Pleil Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in January 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.

Olivia Levine

Graduate Student

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 third year neuroscience PhD candidate studying how hormone signaling alters neuronal function in circuits involved in addiction and affective disorders.

Jean Rivera

Graduate Student

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

John Miller

Research Technician

John graduated from Union College in 2017 with a degree in Bioengineering.

Lab alumni

Katherine Lopez (Neuroscience rotation student)

Sarah Szwed (MD-PhD rotation student)


Get in touch!

bw-nycWe are currently looking for motivated postdocs and graduate students to join our lab. Let us know about yourself if you’re interested.