Postdoctoral Fellows

Photo of Lorena Areal, Ph.D.
Lorena Areal, Ph.D.
Mentor: Randy Blakely, Ph.D.

Email: lbianchineareald@fau.edu

I investigate mechanisms by which altered DAT function can drive risk for neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. My current research focuses on molecular, circuit, and behavioral alterations exhibited in the DAT Val559 mouse, where a DAT gene variant identified in patients diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder is expressed, with the ultimate goal of identifying better ways to diagnose and treat these disorders. Read more about my research.

Photo of Paula Gajewski-Kurdziel, Ph.D.
Paula Gajewski-Kurdziel, Ph.D.
Mentor: Randy Blakely, Ph.D.

Email: pgajewski@health.fau.edu

My research focuses on uncovering the cellular and molecular networks that support immune system modulation of CNS serotonergic signaling. I am exploring how these networks impact the regulation of the serotonin transporter and the specific serotonergic pathways that mediate immune system modulation of behavior. Read more about my research.

Photo of Sirisha Madem, Ph.D.
Sirisha Madem, Ph.D.
Mentor: Lucia Carvelli, Ph.D.

Email: smadem@fau.edu

My research focuses on understanding how perturbations of the epigenome by drugs of abuse may lead to long lasting changes that eventually result in heritable alterations in gene expression. Using behavioral, genetic and molecular approaches in the well-established C. elegans model, I am investigating the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms of Amphetamine exposure. Read more about my research.

Xiaoyu Liu
Xiaoyu Liu
Mentor: Ning Quan, Ph.D.

Email: xiaoyu.liu.hust@gmail.com

I have a strong interest in doing research on neuroimmunology. My research aims to elucidate the mechanism how inflammatory activities affect the brain. Different from the current dogma that inflammation mediates mostly detrimental effects to the central nervous system, my discovery has unveiled beneficial influence of peripheral inflammation on the brain and many critical physiological functions of inflammatory mediators. During my PhD study, I have received broad training on immunology, neuroscience, behavioral science and molecular biology. My previous work focuses on the influence of IL-1 in the context of CNS inflammation. I have developed a very useful genetic mouse model and shared it with many labs across the world. I am currently working on different disease models for studying neurological disorders with an immunological etiology including experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and peripheral inflammation mediated affective disorders. 
Read more about my research .

Seungwoo Yoo, Ph.D.
Seungwoo Yoo, Ph.D.
Mentor: Henriette Van Praag, Ph.D.

Email: yoos@health.fau.edu

My research aims to understand the beneficial effects of physical exercise on learning and memory. I am, in particular, focusing on how adult-born hippocampal neurons induced by exercise reorganize the hippocampal and cortical area network where are strongly associated with memory function, by mainly using behavioral tasks, retrograde viral tracing, exercise treatment, and immunohistochemistry. Read more about my research.

Katarzyna Targowska-Duda, Ph.D.
Katarzyna Targowska-Duda, Ph.D.
Mentor: Larry Toll, Ph.D.

Email: ktargowskaduda@health.fau.edu

My research focuses on the role of NOP (Nociceptin OPioid) and nicotinic receptors in migraine. Using a nitroglycerin mouse model of migraine I can effectively mimic symptoms observed in migraineurs. I am focusing on the evaluation of NOP and nicotinic ligands effects on parameters of sensory (sensitivity of paw) and affective (conditioned place avoidance) migraine pain as well as light aversion in mice. I am also interested in elucidating the function of these receptors in microglia system in trigeminal ganglion and trigeminal nucleus caudalis under acute and chronic migraine conditions. My two-year postdoctoral position at Dr. Toll’s lab is funded by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education grant "Mobility Plus"(1662/1/MOB/V/17/2018/0).

Itzel Sifuentes-Romero, Ph.D.
Itzel Sifuentes-Romero, Ph.D.
Mentor:Johanna Kowalko, Ph.D.

Email: isifuentesromero@fau.edu

I am using Astyanax mexicanus to study eye morphogenesis and brain development. A mexicanus exists in two forms, a sighted, surface-dwelling form and a blind, cave-dwelling form that initially develops small eyes that subsequently degenerate. Cavefish eyes display differences in shape during development relative to surface fish, allowing for the examination of the cellular mechanisms that underlie these differences. Further, cavefish brains are significantly different from surface fish brains, providing an opportunity to investigate the relationship between the developing eye and the developing brain. We use genome-editing and transgenesis techniques, combined with live imaging, to examine how the eye assumes its proper shape, how this affects the structure of the brain, and what occurs, at a cellular level, when the genes that underlie these process are modified. Because the process of eye morphogenesis is highly conserved between species, these studies will allow us to understand how structural defects occurring humans.

Osama Refai, Ph.D.
Osama Refai, Ph.D.
Mentor: Randy Blakely, Ph.D.

Email: orefai@health.fau.edu

My research uses the powerful model  C. elegans  to identify novel genetic and pharmacological regulators of dopamine (DA) signaling. As perturbed DA signaling is a feature of multiple human neurodegenerative and neurobehavioral disorders, my studies allow for both fundamental advances in our understanding of neuromodulation and translational contributions that can ultimately impact human health. Read more about my research.

Vindhya Nawaratne, Ph.D.
Mentor: Tanja Godenschwege, Ph.D.

Email: onawaratne@fau.edu

Brittnee McDole, Ph.D.
Mentor: Alex Keene, Ph.D.

Email: Bmcdole@fau.edu

My research is focused on mapping neural activity and circuits in the evolutionary animal model, A. mexicanus. The Mexican blind cavefish have evolved differences in their behavior, morphology, and brain development relative to the ancestral surface-dwelling population. My main study uses transgenic cave and surface fish that express a calcium sensor in the brain (GCaMP). With these, we will record and analyze whole-brain activity during various stimuli in sleeping and awake fish in order to better understand their differences in behavior and brain activity.

Felix Mayer, Ph.D.
Felix Mayer, Ph.D.
Mentor: Randy Blakely, Ph.D.

Email: mayerf@health.fau.edu

My research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that permit the dopamine transporter (DAT) to respond dynamically to dopamine and other modulatory neurotransmitters. My studies are designed to contribute to our understanding of how DAT is regulated, and ultimately, identify pharmacologically relevant targets for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders arising from disruptions in DA-ergic signaling. Read more about my research.

Sarah J. Cohen, Ph.D.
Mentor: Robert Stackman, Ph.D.

Email: scohen39@my.fau.edu

My research investigates the brain mechanisms underlying complex behaviors such a learning and memory. With a focus on the hippocampal formation, I employ multiple neuropharmacological and molecular techniques to examine how the brain stores and represents information. Read more about my research.

Gloria Brunori, Ph.D.
Gloria Brunori, Ph.D.
Mentor: Janet Robishaw, Ph.D.

Email: gbrunori@health.fau.edu

My research seeks to understand how structurally diverse G-protein alpha-beta-gamma heterotrimers assemble to mediate physiological and behavioral responses. Using genetically modified mice lacking the G-protein gamma 7 subunit in discrete neuronal populations within the striatum, I am investigating the cellular and functional consequences of disrupting the downstream signal(s) and how this contributes to the development of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, including drug addiction, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Read more about my research.

Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D.
Mentor: Alex Keene, Ph.D.

Email: elizabethbrown@fau.edu

Broadly, I am interested in the genetic and neural mechanisms that regulate how environmental input shapes behavioral output. Using Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, my current work combines genetic manipulation, behavioral analysis, and functional imaging to investigate the mechanisms by which food type and availability regulate the interrelationship between sleep, feeding, and metabolic state. Read more about my research.

Etay Aloni, Ph.D.
Etay Aloni, Ph.D.
Mentor: Henriette Van Praag, Ph.D.

Email: ealoni@fau.edu

I am interested in the subcortical connections to the hippocampus and their role in learning and memory. My research is focused on how manipulating those projections affects physiology and behavior in mice. In my work, I incorporate molecular biology, electrophysiology and behavioral methods. Read more about my research.