SMART program student Maribel Granja presenting her summer research.

Molecular Neurogenetics Laboratory

Institute of Behavioral Genetics

Life Sciences Research Bldg #4
Department of Integrative Physiology
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0447
phone: 303-735-6571
fax: 303-492-8063

Research Interests

To understand at the molecular level how genetic variability, particularly with respect to nicotinic receptor genes, influences risk for drug dependence and co-morbid psychiatric disorders. Current projects include:

  1. Characterization of the Chrna5 D398N polymorphism. This polymorphism, which occurs in the nicotinic receptor alpha5 subunit gene, has been demonstrated in many studies to alter risk for nicotine dependence and other smoking related behaviors and diseases in humans. The project uses various approaches to determine the molecular, cellular, physiological and behavioral consequences of the Chrna5 D398N polymorphism.

  2. Molecular regulation of nicotinic receptor gene expression. This project is focused on establishing the role of specific gene regulatory regions on nicotinic receptor subunit expression. Included in this project are studies to understand the molecular mechanisms through which genetic variability in the regulatory regions alters nicotinic receptor expression.


  • Director: Jerry A. Stitzel, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellows: Rebecca Helfand, Ph.D., André Zalud, Ph.D.

  • Graduate Student: Coral Cabrera, B.S.

  • Professional Research Assistant: Vivian Grimshaw, B.A.

  • Undergraduate Student: Kate Anderson.

  • Volunteers: Namitha Manoj, M.S., Hunter Mathews, M.S.

  • High School Student: Eli Rogers.

  • Collaborators: Don Cooper, Ph.D., Marissa Ehringer, Ph.D., Sharon Grady, Ph.D., Chris Lowry, Ph.D. and Michael Marks, Ph.D., University of Colorado Boulder; Robert Freedman, M.D. and Amanda Law, University of Colorado at Denver; Gustav Akk, Ph.D., Laura Bierut, M.D. and Joe Henry Steinbach, Washington University, St. Louis; Haris Vikis, Ph.D. and Jay Tichelaar, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin; Paul Kenny, Ph.D., Scripps Research Institute, Jupiter, Florida; Uwe Maskos, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.
Front row: Anne Tammimaki, Lori Fraser, Patricia Wuu, Penny Herder.
Back row: Hannah Gissel, Jerry Stitzel, Will Horton, André Zalud, James Laughlin, Becky Helfand and Vivian Nguyen.

Current Research Projects

  • Identification of naturally occurring polymorphisms in the mouse neuronal nicotinic receptor subunit gene family.

  • Assessment of the relation between identified nicotinic receptor gene polymorphisms, behavior, neuroanatomy, and physiology.

  • Molecular and cellular characterization of nicotinic receptor polymorphisms.

  • Utilization of nicotinic receptor knock-out mice to determine the pharmacological targets of nicotinic compounds.

  • Mapping of genetic loci that influence free-choice nicotinic consumption in mice.

  • Assessing the extent to which sensitivity to the physiological and behavioral effects of nicotine varies over the course of a day and determining the role of melatonin, nicotine metabolism and nicotinic receptor expression in this phenomenon.

Opportunities for Undergraduates

Undergraduates wanting to begin participating in research in our laboratory must meet the following requirements:

  • Minimum committment: 1 academic year.
  • Minimum hr/week: 8 (in blocks of 2 hr or more work/day).
  • Minimum experience: No prior experience required.
  • Other: Must be willing to work with rodents and work occasionally on weekends.


Recent Publications


  • 2008-2013, NIH/NCI, "Collaborative Genetic Study of Nicotine Dependence: Role of Chrna5 in Modulating Sensitivity to Nicotine in Mice"

  • 2009-2014, NIH/NIMH, "Basic to Clinical Molecular Neurobiology of Nicotinic Receptors in Schizophrenia"