Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Branch (BCN)

What We Do:

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Branch (BCN) supports human and animal experimental investigations of substance use disorders (SUD) and their underlying mechanisms. This includes a focus on behavioral, cognitive, and neurobiological mechanisms driving the consequences of substance use and underlying the various phases of SUD – including initiation of substance use, transition from recreational/medical to compulsive use, relapse, and recovery. We also support research on neurocognitive processes fundamental to SUD (e.g., decision-making, reward/punishment learning, social cognition).

BCN is particularly interested in advancing research on the following themes:

  • Computational cognitive neuroscience, with an emphasis on explanatory modeling towards understanding neurocognitive mechanisms at the computational level. We encourage projects that:
    • Establish collaborative teams with complementary expertise in computational and experimental research
    • Support computational training at all career stages
    • Apply explanatory modeling methods to new and existing data towards explaining mechanisms related to SUD
  • Bidirectional translation, with an emphasis on basic research that is informed by the clinical condition and seeks to develop novel preventative and therapeutic targets at the level of circuits, brain networks, cognitive constructs, and/or behavior. We encourage projects that emphasize:
    • Animal modeling informed by cognitive psychology, anthropology, sociology, and/or developmental psychology
    • A more complete understanding of the behavioral and neurobiological effects of non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS, etc.) to new identified targets, leading to stronger mechanistic understanding of SUD and its treatment
  • Studying brain and behavior within the broader socioenvironmental context, including projects seeking to understand:
    • Socioenvironmental influences (e.g., childhood trauma, structural racism, economic and food instability, environmental insults) on the substance use trajectory
    • Social cognition (e.g., understanding processes that are involved in perceiving, remembering, thinking about, and attending to others in our social environment)
    • Complex morbidity and transdiagnostic risk involving SUS and other psychiatric disorders
  • Understanding risk for and protection against SUD across the lifespan, with an emphasis on:
    • Bidirectional transmission of risk for or protection from substance use outcomes in caregivers and adverse neurodevelopmental, behavioral, and clinical outcomes in child (e.g., early modifiable indicators of later risk, protective factors against later adverse outcomes)
    • Generation and analyses of large, diverse samples that incorporate multivariate characterization of neurocognition, substance use, and quality of life

Across all themes, we encourage adoption of the following approaches:

  • Sophisticated computational/statistical analytical approaches towards analyses of neural circuitry, cognition, and behavior
  • Engagement of diverse teams that incorporate perspectives and team science approaches, as needed, from neuroscience, psychology, sociology, computer science, anthropology, ethicists, and community stakeholders

For more information on relevant funding opportunities, please see the “Active Funding Opportunities” section below.

Staff Biographies and Research Interests:

Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D.
  • Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D. – Branch Chief
    (301) 443-3209
    Vani’s areas of scientific interest and expertise include neuroimaging of substance use disorder-related circuitry, machine learning, decision-making, and perception.

    Vani received her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Pune and a master’s degree in Cognitive Science from the University of Allahabad, both in India. She then completed doctoral research on time perception. After receiving a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor College of Medicine, Vani joined the Neuroimaging Research Branch at the NIDA Intramural Research Program (NIDA-IRP) to carry out postdoctoral research under Dr. Elliot Stein’s mentorship. Her work at the NIDA-IRP focused on understanding vulnerability to drug addiction using behavioral measures combined with multiple MRI techniques.

    Vani joined NIDA’s Program staff in 2015. In addition to overseeing a Program portfolio, she is actively involved in several intra- and inter-institute activities at the NIH, including the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) project and the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) program.
John Fedota, Ph.D.
  • John Fedota, Ph.D. – Program Officer
    (301) 402-0812
    Dr. Fedota’s portfolio is focused on human neuroimaging and neurostimulation studies describing the cognitive mechanisms underlying substance use disorder.  His prior research focused on basic studies of human attention and cognitive control as well as the longitudinal neurobiological changes associated with smoking cessation.

    Dr. Fedota holds a BA in Biology from Oberlin College, and an MA in Human Factors and a PhD in Psychology from George Mason University.  He completed postdoctoral training at the Center for Excellence in Neuroergonomics and Technology (CENTEC) at George Mason University, and at the NIDA intermural research program in Dr. Elliot Stein’s Neuroimaging Research Branch.  Prior to moving to the extramural side of NIDA in 2020, Dr. Fedota was a Staff Scientist at the NIDA-IRP.
Mary Kautz, Ph.D.
  • Mary Kautz, Ph.D. – Program Officer; Director, NIDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 443-3206
    Dr. Kautz’s research interests include understanding the neurobiological substrates of substance abuse, throughout all phases of the addiction process, in both human and nonhuman models. Her program area specifically focuses on various aspects related to nicotine/tobacco use (e.g., initiation, cue reactivity, craving, cessation, and withdrawal) as well as the tobacco regulatory aspects associated with the use of a wide array of tobacco products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

    Dr. Kautz received a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, with an emphasis in behavioral psychopharmacology, from The American University, Washington DC.  She continued her 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 behavioral pharmacology research in both rodent and non-human primate models.  As a US Army Captain and then as a Civilian Contractor, Dr. Kautz spent 10 years conducting DoD-funded clinical sleep 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 and, in 2014, became the NIDA Liaison to the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program, an interagency partnership program between the NIH and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products created to help foster a research program addressing the regulatory authorities relevant to the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  She serves as the NIDA contact on numerous NIH-FDA initiatives associated with this program.
Flair Lindsey
  • Flair Lindsey – Program Analyst
    (301) 827-5783
    Flair Lindsey is a program analyst with more than 25 years of experience in diversity, health disparities and research training program development and management. She joined the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Branch (BCN), Division of Neuroscience and Behavior (DNB), in 2020. In this role, Flair assists with program coordination of the NIDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Program (TRSP), participates in cross cutting nicotine and tobacco special interest groups (SIGs), serves as a resource on NIH Tobacco Regulatory Science Program (TRSP) & FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) research training and grant funding opportunities and produces the Nicotine and Tobacco Research Team (NTRT) bi-weekly newsletter, among other efforts.
Dr. Jessica Mollick
  • Jessica Mollick, Ph.D. - Program Officer
    (301) 827-2949
    Jessica’s areas of scientific interest and expertise include the neural mechanisms of reward learning, emotion, and decision-making, including social decision-making, and how these mechanisms are influenced by substance use disorders. She also has interest in neuroimaging methods and computational models of reward learning and decision-making.

    Jessica received her bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science from the University of California – Berkeley. She then completed a Ph. D in Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Colorado – Boulder, where her research focused on computational neural network models of the basal ganglia, amygdala and dopamine system under the mentorship of Dr. Randall O’Reilly, and neuroimaging research on reward learning, including the neural mechanisms of conditioned inhibition. Jessica completed postdoctoral training at Yale University in the Department of Psychiatry under the mentorship of Dr. Hedy Kober. Her work at Yale University focused on examining decision-making for wins and losses in individuals with cocaine use disorders, and meta-analysis of the neural mechanisms of prediction error. Jessica joined NIDA in 2023.
Holly Moore, Ph.D.
  • Holly Moore, Ph.D. –​ Program Officer
    (301) 827-7376
    Dr. Moore oversees a portfolio focused on preclinical and basic studies in non-human models on neural mechanisms underlying the cognitive, affective and behavioral processes that mediate the risk and maintenance of compulsive drug taking and dependence. Dr. Moore’s background is in behavioral neuroscience and translational research using primarily rodent model systems to probe neural circuit function relevant to psychiatric disease.  She received a dual-degree B.S. in Psychology and Chemistry from Wright State University and a PhD in Neuroscience with an emphasis on animal cognition from The Ohio State University.  She obtained post-doctoral training in translational neuroscience and techniques including neurophysiology, neurochemistry and neuroanatomy at the University of Pittsburgh.  From 2001-2018, Dr. Moore was a faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University as Assistant then Associate Professor of Neurobiology in Psychiatry and as a Research Scientist VI for the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Her research program there focused on developing and validating rodent models of the neural circuit-behavioral relationships in schizophrenia and mood disorders.  She also established and directed the New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia Psychiatry Rodent Neurobehavioral Analysis Core, and served as Director of Research Resource Management. Dr. Moore joined NIDA in 2019.
Lizette Nkongho
  • Lizette Nkongho, MPH – Scientific Program Manager (Contractor), Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 435-1322
    Lizette Nkongho’s research interest include understanding the neuropsychological effects of tobacco/nicotine products using electroencephalographs (EEGS). Lizette earned her master’s degree in Public health from George Mason University. She was first introduced to tobacco research in 2012 while working with the University of Maryland Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science (TCORS). Lizette Joined NIDA at the beginning of 2019, working with the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program.
Janani Prabhakar
  • Janani Prabhakar, Ph.D.Program Officer, HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study
    (301) 827-4729
    Dr. Prabhakar received her PhD from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Davis. Her research career examined the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie memory and future-oriented processes in early childhood. In 2017, she joined the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as a Science and Technology Policy fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). At NIMH, she was a program officer in the Division of Translational Research within the Developmental Mechanisms and Trajectories of Psychopathology branch. Janani joined NIDA in 2021 to manage the HEALthy Baby Cognitive Development (HBCD) study as its program officer as well as develop a developmentally focused portfolio within the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience branch. She is actively involved in multiple trans-NIH initiatives focused on child development, including the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program and NIDA’s Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study.

Resources for Researchers:

  1. NIDA’s Racial Equity Initiative organized a virtual meeting on May 17-19, 2022, titled, ‘The Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Structural Racism’to bring together a group of interdisciplinary researchers to unpack the effects of structural racism on neurocognition, as it relates to substance use and mental health, and to discuss how to consider and contextualize structural racism in developing research studies. The 3-day meeting was attended by over 900 participants from around the world and offered insights on various subjects, including the historical context of structural racism in healthcare and research, operationalization and measurement of constructs related to structural racism, community-engaged research, and responsible use of secondary datasets.

    List of Publications and Resources:


  2. NIDA has published a suite of funding opportunity announcements seeking to advance equity by supporting research and research training efforts that are consistent with NIDA’s mission and with best practices for conducting research with racial and ethnic minority populations. Please visit the NIDA Racial Equity Initiative website for more information. 


Active Funding Opportunities:

  • NIDA REI: Research at Minority Serving Institutions on Neurocognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Impact of Structural Racism on the Substance Use Trajectory (R61/R33 Clinical Trial Optional) [See full list of NIDA REI funding opportunities.]
    RFA-DA-23-029 (R61/R33)
  • NIDA REI: Research on Neurocognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Impact of Structural Racism on the Substance Use Trajectory (R61/R33 Clinical Trial Optional) [See full list of NIDA REI funding opportunities.]
    RFA-DA-23-028 (R61/R33)
  • Education Activities for Responsible Analyses of Complex, Large-Scale Data
    RFA-DA-24-027 (R25)
  • Tobacco Regulatory Science (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
  • Accelerating the Pace of Drug Abuse Research Using Existing Data (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
    RFA-DA-22-037 (R01)
  • Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award in Tobacco Regulatory Research (K01 - Independent Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
  • Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award in Tobacco Regulatory Research (K01 - Independent Clinical Trial Required)
    RFA-OD-22-024 (K01)
  • Pathway to Independence Award in Tobacco Regulatory Research (K99/R00 - Independent Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
    RFA-OD-22-025 (K99/R00)
  • Pathway to Independence Award in Tobacco Regulatory Research (K99/R00 - Independent Clinical Trial Required )
    RFA-OD-22-026 (K99/R00)
  • Accelerating the Pace of Drug Abuse Research Using Existing Data (R21 Clinical Trial Optional)
    RFA-DA-22-038 (R21)
  • Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS)
    NSF 20-609 (R01)
  • Exploratory Clinical Neuroscience Research on Substance Use Disorders (R61/R33)
    PAR-23-158 (BESH) PAR-23-157 (CT Optional)
  • Translating Socioenvironmental Influences on Neurocognitive Development and Addiction Risk (TranSINDA) (R34 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
  • Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Leveraging Longitudinal Studies in Animal Models to Identify Neural Mechanisms of Vulnerability and Resilience to Substance Use Disorder
    NOT-DA-21-003 (R01,R21,R15,R03)
  • Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Advancing Research on SUD through Computational Neuroscience
    NOT-DA-20-022 (R01,R21)
  • Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Mentored Career Development Award in Large-Scale Clinical Study Development and Analysis
    NOT-DA-20-006 (K08,K23,K25,K01,K99/R00)
  • Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Harnessing computational tools for sophisticated analyses of Substance Use Disorder-related behaviors
    NOT-DA-20-017 (R01,R03,R21)
  • Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Mechanistic Investigations of Psychosocial Factors Associated with Substance Use Disorders
    NOT-DA-20-005 (R01,R21)

National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (NACDA) Approved Concepts

A concept describes the purpose, scope, and objectives of a potential funding opportunity. Concepts are posted to give interested researchers additional time to plan for application submissions. Approved concepts are usually developed into Requests For Applications (RFAs), Program Announcements that include set-aside funds (PASs), or Program Announcements with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations (PARs). The NACDA conducts most, but not all, NIDA concept clearances. Concepts may also be cleared through other public venues.