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 of Medicine 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

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

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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.


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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
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


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


Stephanie A. Cajigas
MSTP Student


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.


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Christina Sanders
Undergraduate Researcher

ASPET SURF Scholar/Vanderbilt SURP Scholar



Christie is a third-year undergraduate at Vanderbilt majoring in Neuroscience. Her previous research experience is in non-human primates. She joined the Calipari lab to explore rodent models of addiction. She plays violin in the Commodore Orchestra and enjoys running in her free time.






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.



Sebastian milanes


Sebastian is a fourth-year undergraduate at Vanderbilt majoring in neuroscience. He joined the Calipari Lab in order to better understand the mechanisms of reward in addiction and drug abuse. In his free time, he can be found cooking, playing basketball at the rec, sampling good barbecue, or playing old video games.



Kristina E. Kitko
Visiting Graduate Student



Kristina completed a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Materials Science from Vanderbilt University before joining the Zhang lab at Vanderbilt University. She is currently a PhD candidate in Materials Science and her dissertation work focuses on the development, application, and biological characterization of nanoscale materials to study membrane signaling. Kristina is currently a visiting student in the Calipari lab. In her free time, she can be found running, powerlifting, baking, or hiking and eating her way through Nashville.


See publications from Kristina: Google Scholar
Twitter: @kekitko


Lab Photos