The CaliparI Lab Team


Principal Investigator



Dr. Calipari received her PhD in Neuroscience in 2013 in the laboratory of Dr. Sara Jones at Wake Forest University School of Medicine where she studied how self-administered drugs altered dopaminergic function to drive addictive behaviors. She then went on to complete her postdoctoral training with Dr. Eric Nestler at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she used circuit probing techniques to understand the temporally specific neural signals that underlie motivation and reward learning. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University in the Department of Pharmacology. Her independent work seeks to characterize and modulate the precise circuits in the brain that underlie both adaptive and maladaptive processes in reward, motivation, and associative learning. 

See publications from Dr. Calipari: Google Scholar
Twitter: @TheCalipariLab


Lab Members


Munir Gunes Kutlu, Ph.D.
Research Instructor

VUMC Research Scholar
NARSAD Young Investigator

Gunes received his Ph.D. from Duke University in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, where he primarily worked on computational models of learning and memory as well as dopaminergic signaling in nicotine addiction with Drs. Nestor Schmajuk and Ed Levin. Following his graduation in 2013, Gunes joined Dr. Tom Gould’s laboratory at Temple University as a Post-Doctoral Fellow. There he studied behavioral, neural and molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of nicotine exposure on acquisition, extinction, and recovery of fear memories. In 2016, Gunes moved to Penn State University alongside his lab as a Research Associate and joined Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Faculty as a Research Instructor in December 2017. Outside the lab, you can find Gunes running after his 3 year-old son in any random playground in the area.

See publications from Gunes: Google Scholar
Twitter: @MunirGunesKutlu


Amy R. Johnson, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

NIH Postdoctoral Fellow

Amy received her Ph.D. in 2017 from Virginia Commonwealth University in the department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. While there, Amy worked with Drs. S. Stevens Negus, Matthew Banks, and Katherine Nicholson to develop the non-human primate half of a monkey-to-human cocaine choice self-administration procedure for testing candidate pharmacotherapies to treat cocaine use disorder. She also worked with rodents and used intracranial self-stimulation as well as microdialysis to understand the role of dopamine and serotonin on the decreases in the abuse-related effects of cocaine seen during amphetamine maintenance. Amy continues to be interested in choice behavior in drug addiction research and in finding therapies that will decrease drug-taking behavior while increasing allocation of behavior toward alternative non-drug reinforcers. She is also interested in the neural circuits and molecular mechanisms involved in choosing between drug and non-drug reinforcers. When not in the lab, Amy spends her time cooking, running, and enjoys a few creative hobbies including knitting and spinning yarn.

Twitter: @NoOtherAmy

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Lillian J. Brady, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Fellow 

Lillian obtained her PhD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the Department of Neurobiology.  While at UAB, Lillian worked with Dr. Lynn Dobrunz where she studied the role of the dopamine system in the modulation and regulation of inhibitory synaptic transmission and neural circuit function within the hippocampus. Lillian joined Vanderbilt University as an Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Research Fellow in May of 2017 where her research interests include understanding the synaptic physiology, circuit function, and molecular mechanisms that underlie different types of learning behavior. Outside of the lab, Lillian enjoys exercising, and watching Netflix while knitting and playing with her dog.

Twitter: @DrLJBrady

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Alberto Lopez, PH.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

NIH F99/K00 Postdoctoral Fellow

Alberto graduated from Duke University in 2011 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. He worked for two years under Dr. Thomas Kash at UNC Chapel Hill studying the neural mechanisms behind anxiety and alcoholism. He began graduate school at UC Irvine in 2013 through the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP) and joined the Wood Lab later that year. In the Fall of 2018, Alberto will join the Calipari lab at Vanderbilt University as a D-SPAN post-doctoral fellow under Dr. Erin Calipari. Alberto’s research focuses on understanding the neural circuits that drive drug-seeking behavior. Specifically, he is interested in investigating the epigenetic mechanisms that are alter circuit function which, ultimately, underly relapse behaviors.

See publications from Alberto: Google Scholar
Twitter: @HeyAlbertoSaid

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Suzanne Nolan, PH.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

NIH Postdoctoral Fellow
*Co-advised with Cody Siciliano

Suzanne received her Ph.D. in 2019 from Baylor University in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience, where she worked on understanding the influence of early-life factors, such as diet and seizure exposure, on the development of autistic-like behaviors in monogenic models of autism spectrum disorders. Suzanne joined Vanderbilt University in July of 2019, where she is focused on understanding how presynaptic and postsynaptic adaptations to the mesolimbic dopamine pathway underlie contingency learning. Outside the lab, she enjoys hiking and camping with her dogs and trying new recipes.

See publications from Suzanne: Google Scholar
Twitter: @suzanneonolan


Kimberly Thibeault
Graduate Student

NIH Predoctoral Fellow

Kim graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2015 with a BA in Neuroscience. She started working as a research assistant in Dr. Gurevich's lab at Vanderbilt University following graduation. There, she studied the role of visual arrestin in retinal health and morphology in mouse models. In August 2017, Kim became a first year graduate student in the Interdisciplinary  Graduate Program at Vanderbilt. Her research interests include studying the changes associated with reward and learning, especially in the context of maladaptive behaviors such as drug addiction. In her free time, Kim can be found rock climbing or hiking with her dog.

Twitter: @kim_thibeault

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jENNIFER zachry
Graduate Student

NIH Predoctoral Fellow

Jennifer graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2017 with a BS in Neuroscience. Following graduation, she worked as an intern in the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery in the Conn Lab investigating metabotropic glutamate receptors as therapeutic targets for a number of nervous system and psychiatric disorders. Jennifer joined the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program at Vanderbilt in the fall of 2018 and entered the Pharmacology Department in May of 2019. She is interested in studying the role of D1s and D2s in rewarding and aversive learning. Outside the lab, she enjoys trying new restaurants, playing pick-up soccer, and hiking.

Twitter: @jennifer_zachry


Stephanie A. Cajigas
MSTP Student

NIH MSTP Predoctoral Fellow


Stephanie graduated from Columbia University in 2018 with a BA in Neuroscience and Behavior before joining Vanderbilt as an MSTP student. While there, she worked in Dr. Christine Denny’s lab analyzing the molecular underpinnings of learning and memory by utilizing ArcCreERT2 transgenic mice in an Alzheimer’s Disease context. Stephanie enjoys horseback riding and scuba diving in her free time.

Twitter: @sacajigas


Amanda Watters
Masters Student

Amanda graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South in 2018 with a B.S. in Psychology. She has extensive previous research experience. During her time at Baylor College of Medicine she worked with Dr. Seth Lerner in novel therapeutic development for bladder cancer. During her undergraduate training at Sewanee she worked with Dr. Katharine Cammack exploring the mediated effects of opiate exposure on maternal behavior during adolescence in post-part mice. In her free time as an ex-varsity softball player she enjoys hitting the batting cages, running, and generally exploring great local spots for coffee!

Contact: amanda.b.watters@Vanderbilt.Edu



ASPET SURF Scholar/Vanderbilt SURP Scholar



Jennifer is a second-year undergraduate student double majoring in Neuroscience and Spanish. She joined the Calipari Lab to study the neurocircuitry underlying addiction and behavior. In her free time, she sings in the Vanderbilt University Concert Choir and enjoys napping and watching Netflix.


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Heather Haynes


Heather is a third-year undergraduate double majoring in Neuroscience and Political Science. Her previous research experience is in the synthesis of nanoparticles for drug delivery to the brain in cancer patients. She joined the Calipari lab to study the neurobiology behind addiction and relapse of drug-seeking behaviors. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis and making Spotify playlists.



Sophie Halper

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow


Sophie is a third-year student-athlete at Vanderbilt majoring in Neuroscience. Her previous research experience is drug targeting for the LRRK2 gene in Parkinson's Disease. She joined the Calipari lab to explore the biological mechanisms of addiction. She is on Vanderbilt's swim team and enjoys being active in any type of sport or workout, cooking, and listening to music.


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Ashley Hendricks

ASPET SURF Scholar/Vanderbilt SURP Scholar


Ashley is a third-year undergraduate student double majoring in Neuroscience and Political Science. She joined the Calipari lab to explore the mechanisms of reward in addiction behavior. In her free time, she enjoys indoor spin classes, watching SNL, encouraging her friends to care about politics, and exploring the Nashville restaurant scene.



Emily Chuang

ASPIRNAUT Summer Research Fellow

Emily is a second-year undergraduate student double majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Neuroscience. She joined the Calipari Lab to learn more about the mechanisms behind addiction, and the role that sex differences play in affecting drug addiction. In her free time, she enjoys working out (running and swimming!), finding new music, and watching Netflix.


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Shannon Kelly

Shannon is a senior undergraduate student majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in French at Belmont University. Her previous research experience is with Dr. Jessica Burris at the University of Kentucky in tobacco use cessation in cancer survivors. She joined the Calipari lab to further explore her interests in addiction and neuropsychiatric research. In her free time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, and hanging out with her dog.



Lab Photos