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, compulsive use, abstinence, relapse, and recovery. We also support research on neurocognitive processes fundamental to SUD (e.g., decision-making, reward/punishment learning, insight).

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

  • Computational approaches to investigating SUD-related behaviors and underlying neural mechanisms
  • Bidirectional translational research, with an emphasis on investigating SUD through ecologically valid animal models
  • Understanding the role of environmental and individual sources of SUD vulnerability and resilience
  • Complex morbidity involving SUD and other neuropsychiatric disorders, and transdiagnostic risk factors

Staff Biographies and Research Interests:

  • Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D. – Branch Chief
    (301) 443-3209
    Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D.
    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. – Program Officer
    (301) 402-0812
    John Fedota, Ph.D.
    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. – Program Officer; Director, NIDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 443-3206
    Mary Kautz, Ph.D.

    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 – Program Analyst
    (301) 827-5783
    Flair Lindsey
    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.
  • Holly Moore, Ph.D. –​ Program Officer
    (301) 827-7376
    Holly Moore, Ph.D.

    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, MPH Scientific Program Manager (Contractor), Tobacco Regulatory Science Program
    (301) 435-1322
    Lizette Nkongho

    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, Ph.D.Program Officer, HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study
    (301) 827-4729

    Janani Prabhakar
    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: