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Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Branch (BCN)

What We Do:

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Branch (BCN) supports animal and human experimental investigation on behavioral and cognitive processes underlying addictive behaviors, the behavioral and cognitive effects produced by drugs of abuse, and the neurobiological processes responsible for these effects.  Behavioral variables and their associated neurobiological mechanisms are important as antecedent processes in the vulnerability to initiate, escalate or relapse to drug abuse, as factors in the transition between these stages of abuse, and as consequences or adverse outcomes of abuse.  Antecedent variables include individual differences that can be characterized behaviorally or neurobiologically including genetic predispositions, cognitive processes involved in decision-making, risk-taking or selective attention; environmental influences; and motivational factors that contribute to the initiation of drug use, drug craving, cessation and relapse. Consequences include drug effects on learning and memory, perception, motor behavior, affect, and higher-order cognition.  Primary interests are in the neurobiological substrates of drug abuse behavior and changing behavioral processes during the development of addiction, including the etiology of drug use, transition from use to addiction, and cycles of lapse/relapse.  A priority of the branch is the identification of individual differences or phenotypes that are associated with increased risk for and/or resilience to drug abuse, addiction, and drug-related outcomes, or that predict individual response to intervention.  Translational research and mechanistic studies that may identify targets for pharmacological, environmental or behavioral interventions are also areas of interest, as is a focus on the bidirectional exchange of discoveries between animal models and human experimental-based research findings.

Staff Research Interests:

  • Mary Kautz, Ph.D.Acting Chief
    (301) 443-3206
    Dr. Kautz is interested in better understanding the neurobiological substrates of drug abuse and addiction processes across a broad range of substances of abuse in both human and nonhuman models. She oversees a program focused on various aspects related to nicotine (cue reactivity, cue-induced craving, and withdrawal) as well as the regulatory aspects associated with the use of a wide array of tobacco products.
    Dr. Kautz received a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, with an emphasis in behavioral psychopharmacology, from The American University, Washington DC, where she studied the discriminative properties of drugs.  She continued her behavioral pharmacology 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 research in rodent and non-human primate models on discriminative properties and oral self-administration of various drugs including benzodiazepines and alcohol.  As a US Army Captain and then as a Civilian Contractor, Dr. Kautz spent 10 years training for, and conducting DoD-funded human clinical 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 to oversee drug abuse research in clinical behavioral psychopharmacology and neuroimaging, and also supervises research training programs on the neurobiological substrates of drug abuse and addiction. In 2014, she became the NIDA Liaison to the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program, an interagency partnership program between the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, to help foster a tobacco research program addressing the regulatory authorities relevant to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  She serves as the NIDA contact on numerous NIH-FDA initiatives associated with this program.  She also serves as the NIDA representative to the trans-NIH Program Leadership Committee and is an Alternate Member of the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (NIH Common Fund) Working Group.
  • Steve Grant, Ph.D. – Program Officer
    (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.
  • Shelley Su, Ph.D. - Program Officer
    (301) 402-3869
    Dr. Su is interested in preceding and consequential behavioral aspects of drug abuse and underlying neurobiological processes that mediate addiction liability, as modeled with animal behavioral approaches.  Specific topics of interest include the contributions of stress/anxiety, complex decision making processes, and sex differences to addiction vulnerability.
    Dr. Su has prior training and experience in animal behavioral paradigms used to investigate the complex behavioral and neurobiological features of abuse and addiction. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, where she studied memory reconsolidation, context-induced drug seeking and relapse in animal models of drug abuse. She then completed graduate training at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she conducted research on the neurobiology of positive and aversive effects induced by drugs of abuse, the influence of extended access or escalation on cocaine-associated opponent process actions, and sex differences.  During post-doctoral training she investigated the role of cognitive flexibility in addiction. She joined NIDA as a program officer in 2014 where she administers a portfolio of grants on marijuana abuse and dependence, the role of negative affective processes in drug abuse, cognitive flexibility, and sex differences in addiction.
  • Susan Volman, Ph.D. - Health Scientist Administrator
    (301) 435-1315
    Dr. Susan Volman oversees a program that emphasizes a systems neurobiology approach, including electrophysiological recording of neural activity during drug-related activities and decision-making; studies of learning and memory systems to elucidate how normal processes of neuronal plasticity contribute to drug addiction; and computational neuroscience approaches. She is also interested in the adaptation of neuroethological and genetic model systems for the study of drug addiction processes.
    Dr. Volman obtained her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from Cornell University in 1985 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. She was a faculty member in the Department of Zoology and a member of the Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program and the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State University and then served as Director of Developmental Neuroscience at NSF before coming to NIDA in 1998. Dr. Volman has carried out NIH-funded research in a variety of neuroethological model systems with a common theme of neural circuit re-organization underlying behavioral change in response to injury, natural selection, and during ontogeny. She has served on the editorial board of Brain, Behavior, and Evolution and on the review panel for the Behavioral and Computational Neuroscience Programs at NSF. She has contributed to several initiatives for the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint and the BRAIN initiative. She is the coordinating program director for NIDA’s Cutting-Edge Basic Research Awards (CEBRA) and serves as a NIDA contact these trans-NIH and interagency programs: the Trans-NIH Zebrafish Coordinating Committee (TZCC); Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS); and the Interagency Modeling and Analysis Group (IMAG).
  • Cora Lee Wetherington, Ph.D.Program Officer
    Dr. Wetherington’s interests include: sex differences; gonadal hormones; stress; vulnerability and protective factors; novel applications of concepts and methodology from learning and conditioning science; 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. 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” 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 signature programs of the ORWH -- Specialized Centers of Research on Sex Differences (P50s with preclinical clinical projects) 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); and in 2015, the Martin and Toby Adler Distinguished Service Award from CPDD.    

This page was last updated April 2016