Molecular Neurogenetics LaboratoryInstitute 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. Identify genes that influence nicotine consumption. We currently have two projects related to this research area. One project involves fine mapping of genes that influence nicotine consumption using a combination of mapping, selective breeding for nicotine intake and RNA sequencing of brain tissue. The second project involves identifying genetic modifiers that alter the impact of deletion of Chrna5 on several nicotine behaviors inclduing nicotine intake, nicotine withdrawal and place conditioning.
  3. Another project is exploring the effect of prenatal and early postnatal nicotine exposure and the interaction of this exposure with the Chrna5 D398N variant on behavioral outcomes related to addiction and psychopathology such as ADHD and schizophrenia as well as biochemical and epigenetic consequences of the exposure in brain.
  4. The final project in the lab examines the consequences of nicotine consumption and withdrawal on sleep physiology and systems involved in sleep regulation.    


  • Director: Jerry A. Stitzel, Ph.D.
  • Postdoctoral Fellows/Research Associates: Heidi O'Neill, Ph.D.
  • Graduate Student: Hunter Mathews, M.S., Jordan Buck, B.S., Amanda Alvarado, B.S.
  • Professional Research Assistant: Zach Werner, B.A., Erin Meyers, B.A.
  • Undergraduate Students: Sara Ahmad, Hunter Dagnon,  Julia Fontana, Darby Keirns, Connor Littlefield, Tyler Nguyen, Kelsey Sanders.
  • Volunteers
  • High School Student:
  • Collaborators:  Marissa Ehringer, Ph.D., Charles Hoeffer, Ph.D. CU Boulder; Richard Radcliffe, Ph.D., CU Denver Anschutz Medical Campus; Ed Chan, M.D. National Jewish Hospital; Scott Vrieze, Ph.D., Univ. of Minnesota; Sharon Cresci. M.D., Laura Bierut, M.D., Washington University, St. Louis; Joseph Nadeau, Ph.D., Pacific Northwest Research Institute; Uwe Maskos, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.

Stitzel Lab 2019

Molecular Neurogenetics Lab, 2019

Opportunities for Graduate Students

Individuals interested in graduate training in the molecular genetics of nicotine dependence and psychiatric disorders are encouraged to apply 

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

  • O’Neill HC, Wageman C, Sherman S, Grady SR, Marks MJ and Stitzel JA. 2018. The interaction of the Chrna5 D398N variant with developmental nicotine exposure. Genes, Brain and Behavior.

  • Olfson E, Bloom J, Bertelsen S, Budde JP, BreslauN, Brooks A, Culverhouse R, Chan G, Chen LS, Chorlian D, Dick DM, Edenberg HJ, Hartz S, Hatsukami D, Hesselbrock VM, Johnson EO, Kramer JR, Kuperman S, Meyers JL, Nurnberger JL, Porjesz B, Saccone NL, Schuckit MA, Stitzel J, Tischfield JA, Rice JP, Goate A, Bierut LJ. 2018. CYP2A6 metabolism in the development of nicotine dependence in young adults. Addiction Biology. 23:437-447

  • Bai X, Stitzel JA, Bai A, Zambrano CA, Phillips M, Marrack P and Chan ED. 2017. Nicotine impairs macrophage control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 57:324-333.

  • Koukouli F, Rooy M, Tziotis D, Sailor K, O’Neill HC, Levenga J, Nilges M, Changeux JP, Hoeffer CA, Stitzel JA, Gutkin B, DiGregorio D & Maskos U. 2017. Inhibitory control of prefrontal cortex activity by nicotinic receptors and their human variants linked to schizophrenia and smoking. Nature Medicine. 23:347-354

  • Melroy-Greif WE, Stitzel JA, Ehringer MA. 2016. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors: upregulation, age-related effects, and associations with drug use. Genes Brain Behav. 15:89-107.