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Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Branch (BCN)

What We Do:

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Branch (BCN) supports human and animal experimental investigations of substance use disorders (SUD) and their underlying mechanisms. BCN’s program priorities include, but are not limited to:

  • Behavioral, cognitive, and neurobiological mechanisms of substance use behavior during the various phases of SUD, including initiation of substance use, compulsive use, abstinence, relapse, and recovery
  • Neurocognitive processes relevant to SUD (e.g., decision-making, reward/punishment learning, insight)
  • Bidirectional translational research, with an emphasis on investigating SUD through more ecologically valid animal models
  • Computational approaches to investigating SUD-related behaviors and underlying neural mechanisms
  • Individual differences associated with increased risk for and/or resilience to SUD (e.g., sex/gender differences, behavioral and cognitive traits, epigenetics)
  • Understanding the role of environmental factors (e.g., psychosocial stress) on substance use trajectories
  • Co-morbid psychiatric disorders and transdiagnostic risk factors
  • Mechanistic studies on the consequences of substance use

Staff Research Interests:

  • Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D. – Branch Chief
    (301) 443-3209
    Vani’s areas of scientific interest and expertise include neuroimaging of substance use disorder-related circuitry, machine learning, decision-making, and perception.

    Vani received her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Pune and a master’s degree in Cognitive Science from the University of Allahabad, both in India. She then completed doctoral research on time perception. After receiving a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor College of Medicine, Vani joined the Neuroimaging Research Branch at the NIDA Intramural Research Program (NIDA-IRP) to carry out postdoctoral research under Dr. Elliot Stein’s mentorship. Her work at the NIDA-IRP focused on understanding vulnerability to drug addiction using behavioral measures combined with multiple MRI techniques.

    Vani joined NIDA’s Program staff in 2015. In addition to overseeing a Program portfolio, she is actively involved in several intra- and inter-institute activities at the NIH, including the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) project and the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) program.
  • Steve Grant, Ph.D. – Program Officer; DNB Coordinator for Accelerating the Translation of Research Findings
    (301) 443-8869
    Dr. Grant is the DNB coordinator for identifying and facilitating the bi-directional translation of the animal and human research supported within the division.  Where applicable, he also looks for opportunities for bi-directional translation of scientific findings across NIDA.  He coordinates activities such as: monthly presentations on translational opportunities, reports highlighting translatable research findings, and working with the DNB Director to accelerate these activities when possible.  Dr. Grant also oversees a small portfolio on cognitive neuroscience, neuroeconomics and decision-making, brain imaging technology and radiotracer development, co-morbidities, and commonalities across addictions within the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Branch.
  • Mary Kautz, Ph.D. – Program Officer; Director, NIDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 443-3206
    Dr. Kautz’s research interests include understanding the neurobiological substrates of substance abuse, throughout all phases of the addiction process, in both human and nonhuman models. Her program area specifically focuses on various aspects related to nicotine/tobacco use (e.g., initiation, cue reactivity, craving, cessation, and withdrawal) as well as the tobacco regulatory aspects associated with the use of a wide array of tobacco products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

    Dr. Kautz received a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, with an emphasis in behavioral psychopharmacology, from The American University, Washington DC.  She continued her training with NIH-funded post-doctoral fellowships first at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and then at the former Bowman Gray School of Medicine (now Wake Forest School of Medicine), conducting behavioral pharmacology research in both rodent and non-human primate models.  As a US Army Captain and then as a Civilian Contractor, Dr. Kautz spent 10 years conducting DoD-funded clinical sleep research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, examining pharmacological approaches to maintain or improve cognitive performance during simulated sustained/continuous operations.  She joined NIDA in 2007 as a Program Official and, in 2014, became the NIDA Liaison to the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program, an interagency partnership program between the NIH and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products created to help foster a research program addressing the regulatory authorities relevant to the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  She serves as the NIDA contact on numerous NIH-FDA initiatives associated with this program.
  • Holly Moore, Ph.D. –? Program Officer
    (301) 827-7376
    Dr. Moore oversees a portfolio focused on preclinical and basic studies in non-human models on neural mechanisms underlying the cognitive, affective and behavioral processes that mediate the risk and maintenance of compulsive drug taking and dependence. Dr. Moore’s background is in behavioral neuroscience and translational research using primarily rodent model systems to probe neural circuit function relevant to psychiatric disease.  She received a dual-degree B.S. in Psychology and Chemistry from Wright State University and a PhD in Neuroscience with an emphasis on animal cognition from The Ohio State University.  She obtained post-doctoral training in translational neuroscience and techniques including neurophysiology, neurochemistry and neuroanatomy at the University of Pittsburgh.  From 2001-2018, Dr. Moore was a faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University as Assistant then Associate Professor of Neurobiology in Psychiatry and as a Research Scientist VI for the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Her research program there focused on developing and validating rodent models of the neural circuit-behavioral relationships in schizophrenia and mood disorders.  She also established and directed the New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia Psychiatry Rodent Neurobehavioral Analysis Core, and served as Director of Research Resource Management. Dr. Moore joined NIDA in 2019.
  • Lizette Nkongho, MPHScientific Program Manager (Contractor), Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 435-1322
    Lizette Nkongho’s research interest include understanding the neuropsychological effects of tobacco/nicotine products using electroencephalographs (EEGS). Lizette earned her master’s degree in Public health from George Mason University. She was first introduced to tobacco research in 2012 while working with the University of Maryland Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science (TCORS). Lizette Joined NIDA at the beginning of 2019, working with the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program.
  • Jennifer Wenzel, Ph.D.Program Officer
    (301) 443-1887
    Jen is interested in how experiences throughout development shape drug reward and reinforcement learning to influence addiction trajectories.  Jen’s expertise includes; rodent models of reward/aversion and reinforcement, drug self-administration procedures, opto- and chemo-genetic dissection of brain circuits, and the use of electrochemical and imaging techniques to measure neurochemical activity.

    Jen holds a B.S. in Psychology from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Behavior from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her graduate work identified key neurobiological substrates underlying cocaine’s dual positive/rewarding and negative/aversive processes. Next Jen completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Maryland School of Medicine where she conducted research on several topics, including; the role of dopamine and endocannabinoids in active avoidance and conditioned threat, how corticostriatal circuits and endocannabinoid signaling influence impulsive choice, and the effects of adolescent cannabinoid exposure on cocaine reward, self-administration, and reinstatement of drug-seeking.

    Jen joined NIDA as Program Officer in 2019. She is also actively involved in the NIH Common Fund’s Acute to Chronic Pain Signatures Program.
  • Cora Lee Wetherington, Ph.D. – Program Officer; NIDA’s Women & Sex/Gender Differences Research Coordinator
    (301) 435-1319
    Dr. Wetherington’s research interests within the branch include both preclinical and clinical studies on: sex differences; female-focused topics; stress; vulnerability and protective factors; novel applications of concepts and methodology from learning and conditioning science; bidirectional translation from preclinical to human laboratory studies; and bi-directional translation from the human laboratory to treatment. 

    Dr. Wetherington joined NIDA in 1987 as a program officer in the then Clinical and Behavioral Pharmacology Research Branch. In 1995 she also assumed the role of NIDA’s Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Coordinator, aimed at advancing and infusing the study of females and sex/gender differences into all areas of drug abuse research. She received her PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prior to joining NIDA Dr. Wetherington was a tenured associate psychology professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where for 12 years she conducted research in the field of animal learning and behavior, funded in part by grants from NIH and National Science Foundation.  Dr. Wetherington serves on the Trans-NIH Sex as a Biological Variable (SABV) Working Group and is NIDA’s representative to the NIH Coordinating Committee of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH).  Her grant portfolio has included grants funded under the two ORWH signature programs: Specialized Centers of Research on Sex Differences (P50s with preclinical clinical projects; now U54) and Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (K12).  Dr. Wetherington is a Fellow of two Divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) — Division 25: Behavior Analysis and Division 28: Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse and is a member of Division 50: Society of Addiction Psychology.  In 2005 she received the Meritorious Research Service Commendation from the APA’s Board of Scientific Affairs; in 2010, the J. Michael Morrison Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD); in 2015, the Martin and Toby Adler Distinguished Service Award from CPDD; in 2016, Outstanding Contributions to Advancing the Understanding of Addictions Award for 2016 from APA’s Division 50: Society of Addiction Psychology of APA.

This page was last updated April 2019