Section on Human Psychopharmacology
Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
National Institutes of Health
10 Center Drive, Room 10-CRC/2-2352: MSC 1540
Bethesda, MD 20892-1540

 

Group portrait of the laboratory

What we do

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) has a tremendous negative individual and global impact, and there is an urgent need to understand its etiology and to advance treatment for this devastating illness. Research on the clinical pharmacology of alcohol is necessary to explain how variability in alcohol response affects the risk of developing AUD. The premise underlying the research conducted by the Section on Human Psychopharmacology is that an improved understanding of the genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors that affect alcohol response in humans could lead to the development of novel treatments.

The three main research goals of our work are: (1) to identify determinants of variability in the clinical pharmacokinetics and neuropsychopharmacological effects of alcohol as they relate to the risk for developing AUD; (2) to decipher the relationship between the neurobiological domains underlying AUD and variation in pharmacodynamic response to alcohol; and (3) to develop and apply human laboratory paradigms to screen novel potential treatments for AUD.

Two alcohol administration paradigms, co-developed by the Section, provide a unique platform for this research: (1) the alcohol clamp, and (2) intravenous alcohol self-administration (IV-ASA) using the computer-assisted alcohol infusion system (CAIS). Both methods employ IV infusion of alcohol using a physiologically-based pharmacokinetic algorithm that results in exquisitely-controlled systemic (including brain) profiles of alcohol exposure. The alcohol clamp paradigm offers unique opportunities to time-lock presentation of stimuli and assessment of behavioral and imaging-based outcomes to specific phases and levels of alcohol exposure. Several IV-ASA paradigms enable the characterization of alcohol seeking and consumption behaviors that are primarily driven by the pharmacological effects of alcohol. These human lab paradigms can be combined with physiological, psychological, neuroendocrine and neuroimaging measures, to identify genetic and environmental determinants of AUD.

 

Protocols

08-AA-0178: Computer-Assisted Self-Administration of Ethanol (CASE) in Humans (PI: Vijay A. Ramchandani, PhD)

16-AA-0037: Effect of Opioid Receptor Modulation on Alcohol Self-Administration and Neural Response to Alcohol Cues in Heavy Drinkers: Role of OPRM1 Gene Variation (PI: Vijay A. Ramchandani, PhD)

17-AA-0171: Nicotinic Receptor Genetic Variation and Alcohol Reward (PI: Vijay A. Ramchandani, PhD)
 

View a video here 

 

Current Staff

Vijay A. Ramchandani, Ph.D.
Senior Investigator and Chief
telephone: 301-402-8527
email: 
vijayr@mail.nih.gov

Dr. Vijay Ramchandani

Vijay Ramchandani obtained his undergraduate degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Bombay University in India in year 1990 and Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA in 1996. From 1996 to 2002, he worked at the Alcohol Research Center at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, first as a Research Associate and then as an Assistant Scientist and Part-time Assistant Professor. In 2003, Dr. Ramchandani joined NIAAA as a Staff Scientist in the Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies (LCTS), and in 2007, he became Chief of the Unit on Human Physiology and Pharmacokinetics. In March 2010, Dr. Ramchandani was appointed as a Tenure-track Clinical Investigator and Acting Chief of the Section on Human Psychopharmacology. Dr. Ramchandani received tenure and was promoted to Senior Investigator in 2019. Dr. Ramchandani also serves as a Faculty Member of the NIH Center on Compulsive Behaviors , as an Affiliate Faculty Member in the Department of Pharmaceutics, School of Pharmacy, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA. 

 

Bethany Stangl, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
telephone: 301-451-9401
email: bethany.stangl@mail.nih.gov

Photo of Bethany Stangl

Dr. Stangl joined the Section as a postdoctoral fellow in September 2010. She earned her undergraduate degree at Dickinson College and her PhD in cognitive neuroscience at The George Washington University. She became a Research Fellow in the Section in November 2015 and Research Scientist in October 2018. Her research uses the Computer-Assisted Self-Administration of Ethanol (CASE) protocol that uses this IV alcohol method to assess alcohol-seeking and consumption behavior that is driven primarily by the pharmacological effects of alcohol. To better characterize the motivation for alcohol, she extended this model to develop a novel progressive-ratio paradigm. Most recently her interest in the effects of stress and alcohol cues on alcohol-seeking behavior led her to develop a new method combining CASE with acute stress exposure using personalized guided imagery scripts.  Other interests include studying the relationship between childhood trauma, early life stress, genetics, and risk for substance use disorders in humans.

 

Soundarya Soundararajan, MBBS, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow
telephone: 301-827-0566
email: soundarya.soundararajan@nih.gov

Photo of Soundarya Soundararajan

Soundarya completed her medical training and earned MBBS degree from Stanley Medical College, Chennai, India and pursued her PhD in Clinical Neurosciences from National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), India. Soundarya joined the NIAAA as a Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow in September 2018. Soundarya has clinical and research experience in treating Substance Use Disorders with a special interest in Alcohol Use Disorders. During her PhD, she studied epigenetic changes associated with chronic alcohol use among treatment-seeking subjects with alcohol dependence. Her interests and works include genetics and genomics of alcohol sensitivity and alcohol consumption behaviors. In her future, she aims to employ this knowledge to study pharmacogenomics to understand factors affecting treatment response in Alcohol Use Disorders.

 

Benson Stevens, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
telephone: 301-451-6968
email: benson.stevens@nih.gov

Benson Stevens 

Benson defended his PhD dissertation in Neuroscience at Georgetown University in 2017, and also completed a 1-year Post Doc at Georgetown in 2018. Benson then joined the NIAAA as a Postdoctoral Fellow in October 2018. During his PhD, he studied the effects of genetic polymorphisms associated with adult alcohol use problems on adolescent cognition utilizing fMRI. During his first Post Doc, he used fMRI to study cross-modal interactions of the somatosensory, auditory and visual sensory systems. His current interests include how genetics influence alcohol sensitivity and alcohol consumption behaviors, and the underlying neural mechanisms involved.

 

Sumedha Chawla, MBBS, MPH 
Clinical Research Coordinator 
telephone: 301-435-9397
email: Sumedha.chawla@nih.gov

Photo of Sumedha Chawla

Sumedha Chawla completed her medical training at Era’s Lucknow Medical College, India and earned her Master of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. As a clinical research professional, Sumedha has over 5 years of experience managing and coordinating industry-sponsored and investigator-initiated clinical trials. In this position, Sumedha collaborates with the section staff to plan, prepare, implement, and monitor clinical research activities, and provide assistance in the writing, preparation, and submission of material to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

 

Beth Lee, MSN, RN-BC
Clinical Research Nurse
email: beth.lee@nih.gov

Photo of Beth Lee

Beth Lee earned her MSN from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Ms. Lee has over 31 years’ nursing experience as a Psychiatric Nurse and has performed several roles in clinical research; first as a clinical research coordinator, independent clinical research monitor, and lastly as a clinical research nurse at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. After three years working in academia, Ms. Lee returned to NIH as a clinical research nurse for NIAAA.

 

Nia Byrd, B.S.
Post-Baccalaureate IRTA Fellow 

Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholar
telephone: 301-827-0905
email: nia.byrd@nih.gov 

Nia Byrd

Nia Byrd received her B.S. in Biopsychology Cognition Neuroscience with a minor in AfroAmerican and African Studies from The University of Michigan in April 2017 and joined the NHGRI as an Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) summer trainee shortly after graduation. Her previous research focused on understanding the role of caregivers for children with severe inherited conditions using their social networks. After working in the Social and Behavioral Science Branch for the summer, she joined this section. Nia currently works on protocols where she is involved with screening participants, administering psychological evaluations, and running experimental sessions. Her research interests focus on addiction, women’s health, mental illnesses, and health disparities. In the future, Nia plans to attend medical school for a dual M.D/M.P.H. degree.

 

Alexandra Cowand, B.A.
Post-Baccalaureate IRTA Fellow
telephone: 301-496-8186
email: alexandra.cowand@nih.gov

 Photo of Alexandra Cowand

Alexandra (Alex) Cowand received her B.A. in Mathematics with a minor in Neuroscience from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2018 and joined the section shortly after graduation. She is currently working on the CHRNA5 protocol where her duties include recruiting and screening participants, running experimental sessions, and administering psychological evaluations. Her research interests include the intersection of mathematics with neuroscience and neuroimaging. Alex plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience or Quantitative Psychology.

      

James Keoni Morris, B.S.
Post-Baccalaureate IRTA Fellow
telephone: 301-451-7605
email:james.morris2@nih.gov

Photo of James Keoni Morris

James Morris received his B.S. in Criminology and Psychology from Florida State University in May of 2018 and joined the Section that summer. He works on the Resist version of the Computer-Assisted Self-Administration of Ethanol (CASE) protocol, for which he screens participants, administers psychological evaluations, and runs experimental sessions. James’s research interests include substance use tendencies of people involved in the criminal justice system and the mechanisms by which the justice system evaluates and treats persons with psychological disorders. After his time at NIH, James plans on attending graduate school for Clinical Psychology.

 

Sachin Sundar, B.S.
Post-Baccalaureate IRTA Fellow [NIH Academy Fellow]

Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholar
telephone: 301-451-0308
email: sachin.sundar@nih.gov 

Photo of Sachin Sundar

Sachin received his B.S. in Biology from James Madison University in July 2018. Sachin’s previous research experience lies in the field of molecular neuropsychiatry of methamphetamine addiction. Sachin joined the Section on Human Psychopharmacology in January 2019. His responsibilities include screening and recruiting participants, running experimental sessions, and administering psychological evaluations for various protocols. His research interests include addiction neuroscience and neural prosthetics. He aspires to attend medical school and eventually pursue a career in clinical research.

 

Collaborators and Special Volunteers

 

Vatsalya Vatsalya, M.D. Pg.D. M.Sc. M.S.
telephone:  502-852-8928
email: vatsalya.vatsalya@louisville.edu 

 Vatsalya Vatsalya

Dr. Vatsalya has been a Special Volunteer since February 2014. He is a research scientist in the Department of Medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville KY. His interests include novel human paradigm for alcoholism; identifying treatment for alcoholism; pathophysiological and psychobehavioral evaluations; vulnerable and comorbid conditions [age and sex factors, viral infection]; and biomarkers of alcoholism and alcohol-based organ injury.

 

Jia Yan, Ph.D., M.S., C.G.C.
email: jia.yan@nih.gov

Jia Yan

Dr. Yan has been a Special Volunteer since July 2015, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Section. Dr. Yan obtained an M.S. in Genetic Counseling and Ph.D. in Human and Molecular Genetics through a dual degree program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her training integrated clinical genetic counseling experience with research on alcohol dependence using statistical genetics methods at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. Her previous work investigated the use of genetic information in clinical risk prediction for alcohol dependence. Her postdoctoral work focused on the quantitative analysis of genetic and phenotypic data using genome-wide and systems-based approaches. She worked at the Johns Hopkins University McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine on the clinical genetics team as a practicing genetic counselor in the pediatric and adult medical genetics clinic. She is currently working at NIH in the NIAIA intramural research program and continues to collaborate with the Section on genetics of alcohol use disorder.

 

Joshua Gowin, Ph.D.
email: 
joshua.gowin@cuanschutz.edu

Dr. Joshua Gowin has been a Special Volunteer since July 2018, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Section. Dr. Gowin earned his Ph.D. in 2011 in behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Starting in 2012, he did a one-year fellowship at the University of California San Diego where he became a scan operator for fMRI studies and learned to analyze imaging data. Dr. Gowin is currently Assistant Professor of Radiology and Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus. He is interested in developing neuroimaging as a predictive tool to determine which individuals are likely to develop substance use disorders using machine learning algorithms.

 

Matthew Sloan, M.D.
email: 
matthew.e.sloan@gmail.com

 

Photo of Matthew Sloan

Dr. Matthew Sloan was a postdoctoral fellow in the Section from 2015-2018, and was also a Fellow in the NIH Center on Compulsive Behaviors. His research employed novel human laboratory approaches to investigate how vulnerability for alcohol use disorder predicts alcohol consumption patterns in young adults. He also studied the relationship between endocannabinoid signaling and substance use by leveraging large databases. Matthew completed medical school and psychiatry residency at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and continues to maintain an active clinical practice in Montreal, which primarily focuses on treating individuals with dual diagnoses. After leaving NIAAA/NIH, he completed an Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship at Yale University and has accepted a faculty position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health/University of Toronto, Canada. Dr. Sloan continues to work on projects in collaboration with the Section examining the compulsivity dimension of alcohol addiction

 

Courtney Vaughan, B.S., B.A.
email: courtney.vaughan@mail.nih.gov

Courtney Vaughn

Courtney is an alumna of the Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) and the Post-Baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellowship program. She joined the Section shortly after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. In her three years with the Section, Courtney completed the Script, Progressive Ratio, and pilot for the Resist versions of the Computer Assisted Self-Administration of Ethanol (CAIS) protocols. Courtney is currently a graduate student at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) studying Clinical Psychology under advisor Dr. Andrew Waters. She will continue her work on the RCASE protocol through a collaboration between Dr. Ramchandani and Dr. Waters investigating ecological momentary assessment (EMA) data. Courtney’s research interests include cognition, impaired control and impulsivity and how these concepts relate to the cycle of addiction.

 

Section Alumni

Postdoctoral/Visiting Fellows

Vatsalya Vatsalya (2009-2014)

Bethany Stangl (2010-2015)

Jia Yan (2012-2015)

Joshua Gowin (2013-2018)

Matthew Sloan (2015-2018)

 

Postbaccalaureate/Technical IRTA (Intramural Research Training Award) Fellows

Mike Hoefer (2004-2005)

Nina Saxena (2005-2006)

Shilpa Kumar (2006-2007)

Seth Eappen (2007-2008)

Julnar Issa (2008-2010)

Megan Cooke (2009-2011)

Molly Zametkin (2010-2014)

Marion Coe (2011-2013)

Jonathan Westman (2013-2015)

Kristin Corey (2014-2015)

Lauren Blau (2014-2016)

Anuj Shah (2015-2016)

Courtney Vaughan (2015-2018)

Corbin Ester (2016-2017)

Honoreé Brewton (2016-2017)

Alyssa (Allie) Schneider (2016-2018)

James Hollingsworth (2017-2018)  

Julia E. Swan (2017-2019)​

Nancy E. Ortega (2018-2019)​

 

Summer Students/Trainees

Elizabeth Edenberg (Summer 2003)

Molly Carroll (Summer 2004)

Satjit Brar (Summer 2007)

Aishini Thiyagarajan (Summer 2008, 2009, 2010)

EB Grasser (Summer 2009)

Elgin Yalin [Amgen Scholar co-mentored by Bethany Stangl] (Summer 2016)

Khem Plata [Amgen Scholar co-mentored by Bethany Stangl] (Summer 2017)

Shaliciana Burrell [Amgen Scholar co-mentored by Bethany Stangl] (Summer 2018)

Alana Keller [C-SOAR Student co-mentored by Bethany Stangl] (Summer 2019)

Gari Feria [HiSTEP Student co-mentored by Nia Byrd] (Summer 2019)

 

Research Coordinators

Veronica Schmidt (2010-2014)

Adnan Durrani (2014-2015)

Tasha Cornish (2016-2017)

Donovan Stock (2017-2018)

 

Nurse Trainees from Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, Japan

Kaori Abe (Fall 2011)

Tomoko Nakao (Spring 2012)

Tohru Numano (Fall 2012)

Ryo Chinen (Fall 2013)

Haruna Kawamata (Summer/Fall 2014)

Tomoyasu Matsui (Spring/Summer 2016)
   

10 Most Salient Publications

Original Papers:

  1. Ramchandani VA, Bolane J, Li T-K, O'Connor S. A physiologically-based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) model for alcohol facilitates rapid BrAC clamping. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 23:617-623 (1999).
  2. Gilman J, Ramchandani VA, Davis M, Bjork JM, Hommer DW. Why we like to drink: An fMRI study of the rewarding and anxiolytic effects of alcohol. J Neurosci. 28:4583-4591 (2008).
  3. Ramchandani VA, Umhau J, Pavon FJ, Ruiz-Velasco V, Margas W, Sun H, Damadzic R, Eskay R, Schoor M, Thorsell A, Schwandt ML, Sommer WH, George DT, Parsons LH, Herscovitch P, Hommer D, Heilig M. A genetic determinant of the striatal dopamine response to alcohol. Mol Psychiatry 16:809-817 (2011).
  4. Gilman JM, Ramchandani VA, Crouss T, Hommer DW. Subjective and neural responses to intravenous alcohol in young adults with light and heavy drinking patterns. Neuropsychopharmacology 37:467-477 (2012).
  5. Vatsalya V,* Gowin JL,* Schwandt ML, Momenan R, Coe MA, Cooke ME, Hommer DW, Bartlett SE, Heilig M, Ramchandani VA. Effects of varenicline on neural correlates of alcohol salience in heavy drinkers. Int J Neuropsychopharm 18: pii: pyv068. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyv068 (2015).
  6. Hendershot CS, Wardell JD, McPhee MD, Ramchandani VA. A prospective study of genetic factors, human laboratory phenotypes, and heavy drinking in late adolescence. Addict Biol 22:1343-1354 (2017).
  7. Stangl BL, Vatsalya V, Zametkin M, Cooke ME, Plawecki MH, O’Connor S, Ramchandani VA. Exposure-response relationships during free-access intravenous alcohol self-administration in non-dependent drinkers: Influence of alcohol expectancies and impulsivity. Int J Neuropsychopharm 20:31-39 (2017).
  8. Gowin JL*, Sloan ME*, Stangl BL, Vatsalya V, Ramchandani VA. Vulnerability for Alcohol Use Disorder is Associated with Rate of Alcohol Consumption. American Journal of Psychiatry 174:1094-1101 (2017).
  9. Sloan ME,* Gowin JL,* Janakiraman R, Ester CD, Stoddard J, Stangl BL, Ramchandani VA. High-risk social drinkers and heavy drinkers display similar rates of alcohol consumption. Addict Biol doi: 10.1111/adb.12734. [Epub ahead of print] (2019).
  10. Kwako LE,* Schwandt ML,* Ramchandani VA, Diazgranados N, Koob GF, Volkow ND, Blanco C, Goldman D. Neurofunctional domains derived from deep behavioral phenotyping in addiction. American J Psychiatry 176:744-753 (2019).

Reviews:

  1. Ramchandani VA, Bosron WF, Li T-K. Research advances in ethanol metabolism. Pathologie Biologie 49:676-682 (2001).
  2. Ramchandani VA, O’Connor S. Studying alcohol elimination using the alcohol clamp method. Alcohol Research and Health 29:286-290 (2006).
  3. Heilig M, Thorsell A, Sommer WH, Hansson AC, Ramchandani VA, George DT, Hommer D, Barr CS. Translating the neuroscience of alcoholism into clinical treatments: From blocking the buzz to curing the blues. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 35:334-344 (2010).
  4. Hendler RA, Ramchandani VA, Gilman J, Hommer DW. Stimulant and sedative effects of alcohol. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 13:489-509 (2013).
  5. Zimmermann US, O’Connor S, Ramchandani VA. Modeling alcohol self-administration in the human laboratory. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 13:315-353 (2013).
  6. Sloan ME, Gowin JL, Ramchandani VA, Laviolette SR, Hurd YL, Le Foll B. The endocannabinoid system as a target for addiction treatment: Trials and tribulations. Neuropharmacology 124:73-83 (2017).
  7. Gowin JL, Sloan ME, Ramchandani VA, Paulus M, Lane SD. Differences in Decision Making as a Function of Drug of Choice. Pharmacology Biochemistry Behavior I164:118-124 (2018).
  8. Sloan ME, Grant CW, Gowin JL, Ramchandani VA, Le Foll B. Endocannabinoiod signaling in psychiatric disorders: A review of positron emission tomography studies. Acta Pharmacol Sin 40:342-350 (2019)
  9. Luczak SE, Ramchandani VA. Special Issue on Alcohol Biosensors: Development, Use, and State of the Field:Summary, Conclusions, and Future Directions. Alcohol pii: S0741-8329(19)30151-X. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2019.07.001 [Epub ahead of print] (2019).
     

Book Chapters:

  1. Ramchandani VA. Genetic aspects of alcohol metabolism. In Alcohol in disease: Nutrient interactions and dietary intake (Watson RR and Preedy VR, ed). Boca Raton, CRC Press: 187-199 (2004).
  2. Ramchandani VA. Genetic aspects of alcohol metabolism. In Alcohol, Nutrition and Health Consequences (Watson RR, Preedy VR, Zibadi S, ed). New York, Humana Press:15-25 (2013).
  3. Ramchandani VA, Slattum PW, Patkar AA, Wu L-T, Lee JC, Mohanty M, Coe M, Li T-K. Psychopharmacology and the consequences of alcohol and drug interactions. In: Substance Use and Older People (Crome I, Wu L-T, Rao T, Crome P, ed). United Kingdom, Wiley Blackwell:149-170 (2015).

 

Complete List of Publications

 

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