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Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology

Our research focuses on:

Addiction & Motivated Behaviors

Aging & Neurodegeneration


Sensory Systems & Pain


About the Program

The University of Maryland School of Medicine is located on the downtown campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Our graduate faculty are chiefly affiliated with the Program in Neuroscience but are also affiliated with the Graduate Program in Life Sciences (GPILS).

Department News

Dr. Adam Puche was elected by the SOM Class of 2022 to receive the Golden Apple Award for Best Pre-Clinical Faculty. The award will be presented to Adam at this year’s School of Medicine Graduation Ceremony. This will be the third Medical Class Graduation award Adam has received. He is also the recipient of four Class Council awards, and a Reagent’s Award.  Congratulations, Adam, and thank you for your continued dedication and excellence!

Dr. Manita Shakya, Postdoctoral Fellow and mentor Dr. Iris Lindberg, were first and senior authors, respectively, of “The G209R Mutant Mouse as a Model for Human Pcsk1 Polyendocrinopathy,” which was published in Endocrinology on March 4, 2022.

Dr. Joseph Cheer in collaboration with National Institutes of Health (NIH) colleagues, was senior author of "Local Modulation by Presynaptic Receptors Controls Neuronal Communication and Behaviour," which was published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience on February 28, 2022.

Dr. Marco Venniro is a member of the Organizing Committee for the 2022 European Behavioural Pharmacology Society (EBPS) Workshop: "Spanning the Spectrum of Social Behaviour: Towards More Translationally Relevant Animal Models". The Workshop will be held in Rome, 24-26 June 2022.

Dr. Ilia Baskakov, received a one-year $250,000 grant from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) Foundation for “Infectious Etiology of late onset Alzheimer’s Disease.” Congratulations Ilia!

Dr. Donna Calu and Dr. Linda Chang (Diagnostic Radiology) were awarded a one-year $100,000 grant from the Focused Ultrasound Foundation entitled, “Focused ultrasound for neuromodulation in the treatment of opioid addiction.” Congratulations Donna!

Several of our faculty members (Drs. Donna Calu, Joe cheer, Ramesh Chandra, Michy Kelly, Iris Lindberg) devoted their Friday evening to host a workshop in the RISE (Research in Science and Engineering) event at Centennial High School. We thank them for their contribution to this important event, and for representing our department there.

Dr. Rianne Campbell, Postdoctoral Fellow in Mary Kay Lobo's laboratory, received a three-year, $200,946, NIH postdoctoral fellowship (F32) from NIDA, titled “Investigating the ventral pallidum-ventral tegmental area circuit in cocaine relapse“. Congratulations Rianne!

MPowering the State (MPower) will fund three groups in our department: Marco Venniro, with Xuan (Anna) Li (UMCP) received an award to study “Ubiquitin-proteasome system mechanisms underlying abstinence-dependent methamphetamine craving”. Our Substance Use in Pregnancy Center (Lobo and Cheer, Directors) is part of a project headed by Amber Beitelshees (Medicine) and Ritu Agarwal (UMCP) funded to work on “Precision Therapy for Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS)” and Adam Puche, with Joe Kao (UMB) and Ricardo Araneda (UMCP) received an award to study “Noradrenergic dysfunction impairs olfaction-mediated social interaction in Alzheimer’s models”.

Dr. Mervyn Monteiro's competing continuation grant application was funded. The grant, "Mechanistic studies and therapeutics for ALS/FTD linked to UBQLN2 mutations" is funded by the National Institute Of Neurological Disorders And Stroke.  Congratulations Mervyn!

Our faculty colleague, Dr. Benjamin Siemsen, has published a new paper: A Subset of Nucleus Accumbens Neurons Receiving Dense and Functional Prelimbic Cortical Input Are Required for Cocaine Seeking. Front. Cell. Neurosci., 24 February 2022.

We welcome Dr. Melanie Pina who joined our department in January 2022 as Assistant Professor. Dr. Pina received her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from Oregon Health & Science University in 2016. Her postdoctoral work was done in Dr. Tom Kash’s lab in the Department of Pharmacology at UNC- Chapel Hill. Her lab’s research at UMB will focus on identifying the distinct neural circuits and signaling mechanisms that regulate excessive drug use and determining how plasticity within these systems can contribute to comorbid neuropsychiatric conditions. Dr. Pina’s lab integrates behavioral models with electrophysiological, biochemical, and genetic approaches to identify the molecular and cellular adaptations that occur in the brain following repeated exposure to alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Dr. Pina is especially interested in how disrupted serotonin signaling can drive aggression and contribute to the development of anxiety and depression-like behavior.

Dr. Marco Venniro and his collaborators have published "Acute pain related depression of operant responding maintained by social interaction or food in male and female rats." Psychopharmacology 2022.

Dr. Iris Lindberg co-authored “Obesity, POMC, and POMC-processing Enzymes: Surprising Results from Animal Models,” which was selected as a Featured Article and published in Endocrinology on December 1, 2021.

We welcome new faculty member Sergio Dominguez Lopez, PhD, Assistant Professor, effective October 1, 2021. Dr. Dominguez Lopez obtained his PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University in 2014. He did his postdoctoral research in the neurobiology of drug addiction at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (2014-2017) and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (2017-2021) before joining the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Marco Venniro was elected to Associate Member status, effective January 1, 2022, in the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) by the Council of The ACNP at their annual meeting in December 2021.

More kudos to Dr. Mary Kay Lobo who received the Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award from NIDA & NIAA. The award is given for research that has led to significant conceptual and empirical contributions to the understanding of drug addiction.

A new publication from Dr. Marco Venniro's lab, describes the adaptation to the mouse of his novel model of volitional social interactions. Waving through the window: a model of volitional social interaction in female mice, Biol. Psychiatry, Nov. 9, 2021.

The latest paper from Dr. Michy Kelly's group in Front. Pharmacol. is titled The Role of PDE11A4 in Social Isolation-Induced Changes in Intracellular Signaling and Neuroinflammation. It suggests that social isolation-induced decreases in hippocampal PDE11A4 may alter subsequent social behavior in adult mice (but not adolescent mice) by altering neuroinflammatory processes (i.e., IL-6 and microglia), was published Nov. 23, 2021

Dr. Hayelom Mekonen has published A Silent Epidemic of Gross Congenital malformations in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, which describes a high prevalence of CNS-related malformations in newborns in the Tigray region, related to nutritional deficiency and lack of perinatal care.

Dr. Marco Venniro and Research Assistant Kimberly Papastrat,were among the co-authors of “Factors Modulating the Incubation of Drug and Non-Drug Craving and their Clinical Implications,” which was published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews on September 28, 2021. 

Dr. Iris Lindberg, coauthored an invited mini-review on “Obesity, POMC, and POMC-processing Enzymes: Surprising Results From Animal Models,” which was published in the December 2021 issue of Endocrinology.

The newest research from Dr. Michy Kelly and colleagues suggests the hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory storage, is particularly vulnerable to increased inflammation during aging (Published in Journal of Neuroinflammation, September 2021). Increased inflammation was also observed in other brain regions, but not nearly as widespread as in the hippocampus. Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced in females than males, possibly explaining why females display faster age-related cognitive decline than men and higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease. Together, this work points to cytokine signaling as a therapeutic target in the fight against age-related cognitive decline.

Dr. Cali Calarco, Postdoctoral Fellow, in Dr. Mary Kay Lobo's lab, received a partial year, $44,260, Postdoctoral National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH/NIDA) to study “The Influence of Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator - 1 Alpha (PGC-1a) on the Nucleus Accumbens During Cocaine-Self-Administration.” Dr. Joseph Cheer is co-sponsor.

Eric Choi, PhD Student in the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Graduate Program, currently working in Dr. Mary Kay Lobo's lab, received a three-year, $114,849 F31 Predoctoral National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH/NIDA) to study “Cell Subtype Transcriptional Role of Nab2 in Cocaine Self Administration."

Dr. Marco Venniro, was selected as a Travel Awardee for the 2021 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) 60th Annual Meeting which will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 5-8, 2021.

Benjamin Siemsen, PhD, joined the Department as a Faculty Research Associate July 19th, 2021. Dr. Siemsen completed his Ph.D. in 2018 at the Medical University of South Carolina and stayed at MUSC to conduct his post-doctoral fellowship from 2018-2021.

Social support promotes abstinence from abused drugs for many, but not all, people with addiction to drugs. In a new Neuropsychopharmacology paper, Dr. Venniro and colleagues used a rat model designed to mimic features of the community-reinforcement approach to show that immediate voluntary social reward inhibits cocaine self-administration and prevents the intensification of cocaine seeking over periods of abstinence. These effects are independent of cocaine self-administration access condition and sex. Additionally, parametric manipulations of the social versus cocaine choice reveals the rats’ differing propensities to resume cocaine seeking when social reward is delayed or more effortful. These individual differences might identify a subset of rats comparable to the subset of people who do not respond well to socially based treatments. Such rats might be a suitably stringent testing ground for new pharmacological/biomedical treatments.

The latest paper from Dr. Michy Kelly's lab, published in Molecular Psychiatry, July 28, 2021, suggests there may be a genetic basis for friendship. They show that mice prefer to interact with other mice that express the exact same version of an enzyme called PDE11A—even a single amino acid difference in this enzyme is enough to shift social preferences of mice. The ability to predict mutual social preferences could have wide-ranging impacts, including lowering divorce rates, improving healthcare (i.e., predicting patient-provider compatibility), or developing treatments for disorders associated with social avoidance/withdrawal. The paper was featured on NBC News, the NY Post, LabRoots, and several other outlets.

Dr. Sara Keefer, Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Dr. Donna Calu, received the 2021 Michael Shipley Postdoctoral Award. The award recognizes Dr. Keefer’s critical thinking and passion for continued learning in neuroscience as well as her outstanding research and accomplishments. This award memorializes Dr. Michael Shipley, former chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and founder of the Program in Neuroscience at UMB. The award, which includes an engraved award and $1,000 honorarium, is given by the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Office of Postdoctoral Scholars and will be presented at the annual Program in Neuroscience retreat on August 27, 2021.

Dr. Marco Venniro, was selected as a Travel Awardee for the 2021 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) Annual Meeting. He was selected by the ACNP Education and Training Committee to receive this award for the ACNP’s 60th annual meeting which will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 5-8, 2021.

In a new paper, Drs. Olga Bocharova, Ilia Baskakov and their colleagues dispute the hypothesis that Aβ peptides, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, have antiviral effects and are produced by the CNS as an innate defense mechanism. The paper demonstrates that regardless of the strain or dose of the virus, animal sex or age, Aβ peptide does not protect the CNS against infection with Herpes Simplex Virus 1. The paper was selected for JBC Editors' Pick and covered by ALZFORUM.ORG

This latest paper from the Cheer lab published in the J. of  Neuroscience provides evidence that pharmacologically raising tissue levels of endogenous cannabinoids, is a safe, non-desensitizing way to maintain levels of motivation for psychiatric  conditions characterized by compromised motivational levels. Importantly, this strategy is devoid of dependence liability.

The Lindberg lab's new paper describes a new inducible mouse model of processing enzyme insufficiency which is restricted to POMC-expressing cells. While it was previously thought that loss of the processing enzyme PC1/3 in POMC-expressing cells would explain the known association of PC1/3 mutations with obesity, we found that our mice were not obese. Thus non-POMC-related mechanisms for explaining the strong obesity risk associated with human PC1/3 mutations humans must now be sought. Postdoc Dr. Manita Shakya is first author. Endocrinology, March 2021. The paper was selected as a featured article. The authors were invited to submit a mini-review on Obesity, POMC and POMC-processing enzymes based on the article.

In a new paper, Dr. Mary Kay Lobo and her colleagues (including co-first authors Drs. Shannon Cole and Ramesh Chandra) demonstrate that cocaine exposure impacts mitochondrial dynamics and morphology by regulating mitochondria-related nuclear gene transcripts, to affect neuronal function and plasticity.
"Cocaine induced neuron subtype mitochondrial dynamics through Egr3 transcriptional regulation."

Joseph Cheer's NIDA R01 grant, "Endogenous Cannabinoid Control of Reward Substrates", was renewed again. This project has been funded since 2008.

The SOM Class of 2021 selected Adam Puche to receive the Student Council Award for Best Pre‐Clinical Faculty.

Adam Puche was awarded additional funds for his State of Maryland COVID Response Initiative. The project has been extended to the end of June 2021, with total funding to-date of $853K.

Our newest faculty member, Marco Venniro, was awarded a NARSAD grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Mary Kay Lobo was awarded a U01 grant from NIDA. This large Cooperative Agreement is titled "Heroin-Induced genomic regulation of Ventral Pallidum neuron subtypes".

Center for Substance Use in Pregnancy

The Center for Substance Use in Pregnancy will conduct pre-clinical and clinical neuroscience research, focusing on the use of marijuana, opioids, nicotine and alcohol, all of which have increased dramatically in recent years. The center will be co-directed by Joseph Cheer, PhD, Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology and Psychiatry, and Mary Kay Lobo, PhD, Associate Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology.

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Diversity and Inclusion

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion

The Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology is a proud sponsor of Black in Neuro, an organization celebrating black excellence in neuro-related fields.

School of Medicine Diversity Page

Common microaggressions that we need to know, and to avoid


Asaf Keller, Ph.D.

Asaf Keller, PhD
Donald E. Wilson, MD, MACP Distinguished Professor and Chairman
Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Professor of Mathematics & Statistics (UMBC)