Chris Pierce, PhD

Principal Investigator

Professor, Brain Health Institute and Psychiatry

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine

Associate Director for Education and Training

Brain Health Institute

Chair of Basic Science and Training

Rutgers Addiction Research Center

Address: RWJMS Research Building. 683 Hoes Lane West, Room 158,

                Piscataway, NJ 08854

Office Phone: (732) 235-5949


Twitter: @PierceNeuro

Dr. Chris Pierce has led the Laboratory of Addiction Neuroscience since 1997, beginning at the Boston University School of Medicine, moving to the UPenn School of Medicine in 2008 and finally to Rutgers' Department of Psychiatry and Brain Health Institute in 2020. A Kentucky native (and still a passionate supporter of Wildcat basketball), Chris received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky, where he first participated in neuroscience research in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Bardo. He received a PhD in neuroscience and psychology from Indiana University in 1993, where his mentor was Dr. George Rebec. Chris continued his training as a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Peter Kalivas’ laboratory at Washington State University.

Sarah Swinford-Jackson, PhD

Operations Manager

Senior Research Associate, Brain Health Institute and Psychiatry

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine

PhD: University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

Signature Publications:

Swinford-Jackson, S.E., P.J. Huffman, M.C. Knouse, A.S. Thomas, M.T. Rich, S. Mankame, S.J. Worobey, M. Sarmiento, A. Coleman and R.C. Pierce. High frequency DBS-like optogenetic stimulation of nucleus accumbens dopamine D2 receptor-containing neurons attenuates cocaine reinstatement in male rats. Neuropsychopharmacology 48:459-467, 2022.

Swinford-Jackson S.E., B. Fant, M.E. Wimmer, D. Chan D, M.C. Knouse, M. Sarmiento, A.S. Thomas, P.J. Huffman, S. Mankame, S.J. Worobey and R.C. Pierce. Cocaine-induced changes in sperm Cdkn1a methylation are associated with cocaine resistance in male offspring. Journal of Neuroscience 42:2905-2916, 2022.

Matthew Rich, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

PhD: University of Pittsburgh

Honors: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (NIDA F32)

Tyler Sacko, BS


BS: Rutgers University

Samantha De Guzman, BS


BS: Temple University


Maya Abdelaziz

Sayed Kondaker

Shriya Satyavolu

Subhan Siddiqui

Justin Yazigi


Mackenzie Hofman, PhD

Research Associate: 2015-2017

Current Position: Senior Scientist, Merck & Co., West Point, PA.

Lisa Briand, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2009 - 2013

Research Associate: 2013 - 2014

Current Position: Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Honors/awards: NIDA K99/R00 award

Signature Publication:

Briand, L.A., B.A. Kimmey, P. Ortinski, R.L. Huganir and R.C. Pierce. Disruption of glutamate receptor interacting protein in nucleus accumbens enhances vulnerability to cocaine relapse. Neuropsychopharmacology 39:759-769, 2014.

Pavel Ortinski, PhD

Research Associate: 2009 - 2012

Research Assistant Professor: 2012 - 2014

Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience, University of Kentucky School of Medicine

Honors/awards: NIDA K01 award

Signature Publciations:

Ortinski, P., J. Turner and R.C. Pierce. Extrasynaptic targeting of NMDA receptors following D1 dopamine receptor activation and cocaine self-administration. Journal of Neuroscience 33:9451-9561, 2013.

Ortinski P.I., F.M. Vassoler, G.C. Carlson and R.C. Pierce. Temporally dependent changes in cocaine-induced synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens shell are reversed by D1-like dopamine receptor stimulation. Neuropsychopharmacology 37:1671-1682, 2012.

Heath D. Schmidt, PhD

Graduate Student: 2002 - 2006

Research Associate: 2008 - 2011

Research Assistant Professor: 2011 - 2015

Current Position: Killebrew-Censits Chair of Undergraduate Education and a Professor of Neuroscience & Pharmacology in the Schools of Nursing and Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Honors/awards: NIDA K01 award, Russek Student Achievement Award (BUMC)

Signature Publications:

Schmidt, H.D., R.L. Schassburger, L.A. Guercio and R.C. Pierce (2013). Stimulation of mGluR5 in the accumbens shell promotes cocaine seeking by activating PKC gamma. Journal of Neuroscience 33:14160-14169.

Schmidt, H.D., S.M. Anderson and R.C. Pierce. Stimulation of D1-like or D2 dopamine receptors in the shell, but not the core, of the nucleus accumbens reinstates cocaine-seeking behavior in the rat. European Journal of Neuroscience 23:219-228, 2006.


Bruno Fant, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2015-2017

Current Position: Chief Technology Officer, myNEO, Brussels Belgium

Signature Publication:

Fant, B., M.E. Wimmer, S.E. Swinford-Jackson, J. Maurer, D. Van Nest D and R.C. Pierce. Preconception maternal cocaine self-administration increases the reinforcing efficacy of cocaine in male offspring. Psychopharmacology 236:3429-3437, 2019.

Mathieu Wimmer, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2012-2015

Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Honors: NIDA K01 award

Signature Publications:

Wimmer M.E., L.A. Briand, B. Fant, L.A. Guercio, A.C. Arreola, H.D. Schmidt, S. Sidoli, Y. Han, B.A. Garcia and R.C. Pierce. Paternal cocaine taking elicits epigenetic remodeling and memory deficits in male progeny. Molecular Psychiatry 22:1641-1650, 2017

Wimmer, M.E., B. Fant, S.E. Swinford-Jackson, A. Testino, D. Van Nest, T. Abel and R.C. Pierce. H3.3 barcoding of nucleus accumbens transcriptional activity identifies novel molecular cascades associated with cocaine self-administration in mice. Journal of Neuroscience 39:5247-5254, 2019

Vidhya Kumaresan, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2004-2008

Current Position: Research Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Boston University School of Medicine

Signature Publication:

Pierce, R.C. and V. Kumaresan. The mesolimbic dopamine system: the final common pathway for the reinforcing effect of drugs of abuse? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 30:215-238, 2006

Ruth Reeves, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2003-2004

Current Position: Safety Pharmacologist at Sepracor, Inc.

Honors: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows (NIDA F32)

Woo-Kyu Park, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow: 2000-2001

Current Position: Senior Research Scientist, Pharmaceutical Screening Research Team, Korea

Signature Publication:

Park, W.-K., A.A. Bari, A.R. Jey, S.M. Anderson, R.D. Spealman, J.K. Rowlett and R.C. Pierce. Cocaine administered into the medial prefrontal cortex reinstates cocaine-seeking behavior by increasing AMPA-mediated glutamate transmission in the nucleus accumbens. Journal of Neuroscience 22:2916-2925, 2002.


Leonardo Guercio, PhD

PhD Student: 2011 - 2016

Current Position: Manager of Scientific Engagements, Blackfynn, Philadelphia, PA

Honors: NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship

Signature Publication:

Guercio, L.A., M.E. Hofmann, S.E. Swinford-Jackson, J.S. Sigman, M.E. Wimmer, M.L. Dell’Acqua, H.D. Schmidt and R.C. Pierce. A-Kinase Anchoring Protein 150 (AKAP150) Promotes Cocaine Reinstatement by Increasing AMPA Receptor Transmission in the Accumbens Shell. Neuropsychopharmacology 43:1395-1404, 2018.

Samantha White, PhD

PhD Student: 2008 - 2013

Current Position: NINDS - Chief of the Scientific and Public Engagement Branch in the Office of Neuroscience Communications and Engagement (ONCE)

Honors: NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship

Signature Publication:

White, S.L., P.I. Ortinski, S.H. Friedman, L. Zhang, R.L. Neve, R.G. Kalb, H.D. Schmidt and R.C. Pierce. A critical role for the GluA1 accessory protein, SAP97, in cocaine seeking. Neuropsychopharmacology 41:735-750, 2016.

Fair Vassoler, PhD

PhD Student: 2006 - 2011

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Pathobiology, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Signature Publications:

Vassoler, F.M., S. White, H.D. Schmidt, G. Sadri-Vakili and R.C. Pierce. Epigenetic inheritance of a cocaine resistance phenotype. Nature Neuroscience 16:42-47, 2013.

Vassoler, F.M., H.D. Schmidt, M.E. Gerard, K.R. Famous, D.A. Ciraulo, C. Kornetsky, C.M. Knapp and R.C. Pierce. Deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens shell attenuates cocaine priming-induced reinstatement of drug seeking in rats. Journal of Neuroscience 28:8735-8739, 2008.

Sharon Anderson, PhD

PhD Student: 2000 - 2005

Current Position: Lab Manager, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Honors/Awards: NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship, Russek Student Achievement Award

Signature Publication:

Anderson, S.M., K.R. Famous, G. Sadri-Vakili, V. Kumaresan, H.D. Schmidt, D.F. Mierke, J.-H.J. Cha and R.C. Pierce. CaMKII: a biochemical bridge linking accumbens dopamine and glutamate systems in cocaine seeking. Nature Neuroscience 11:344-353, 2008.

Ghazaleh Sadri-Vaklili, PhD

PhD Student: 1998 - 2003

Current Position: Associate Professor of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Signature Publications:

Schmidt, H.D., K.N. McFarland, S.B. Darnell, M.N. Huizenga, J.-H.J. Cha, R.C. Pierce and G. Sadri-Vakili. ADAR2-dependent GluA2 editing regulates cocaine seeking. Molecular Psychiatry 20:1460-1466, 2015.

Sadri-Vakili, G., V. Kumaresan, H.D. Schmidt, K.R. Famous, P. Chawla, F.M. Vassoler, R.P. Overland, E. Xia, C.E. Bass, E.F. Terwilliger, R.C. Pierce and J.-H.J. Cha. Cocaine-induced chromatin remodeling increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor transcription in the rat medial prefrontal cortex, which alters the reinforcing efficacy of cocaine. Journal of Neuroscience 30:11735-11744, 2010.

Stephanie Licata, PhD

PhD Student: 1998 - 2003

Current Position: Associate Medical Director, Global Medicine at Biogen

Honors/Awards:  NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship, Russek Student Achievement Award (BUMC)

Signature Publication:

Licata, S.C. and R.C. Pierce. The roles of calcium/calmodulin and ras/mitogen activated protein kinases in the development of psychostimulant-induced behavioral sensitization. Journal of Neurochemistry 85:14-22, 2003. 

Antoinette Freeman, PhD

PhD Student: 1998 - 2002

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Huston-Tillotson University (Austen, TX)

Honors/Awards: NIDA Minority Student Fellowship

Signature Publication:

Freeman, A.Y. and R.C. Pierce. Tyrosine kinase B and C receptors in the neostriatum and nucleus accumbens are co-localized in enkephalin-positive and enkephalin-negative neuronal profiles and their expression is influenced by cocaine. Neuroscience 117:147-156, 2003.


Katie Famous, MD PhD

PhD Student: 2004 - 2007

Current Position: Associate Program Director at Kaiser Permanente Northern California

Honors Awards: NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship, Russek Student Achievement Award (BUSM)

Signature Publication:

Famous, K.R., V. Kumaresan, G. Sadri-Vakili, H.D. Schmidt, D.F. Mierke, J.-H.J. Cha and R.C. Pierce. Phosphorylation-dependent trafficking of GluR2-containing AMPA receptors in the nucleus accumbens plays a critical role in the reinstatement of cocaine seeking. Journal of Neuroscience 28:11061-11070, 2008.

Ausaf Bari, MD PhD

MS Student: 1999 - 2001

PhD Student: 2001 - 2004

Current Position: Neurosurgery Faculty, UCLA Medical Center

Honors/Awards: NIDA NRSA predoctoral fellowship; American Academy of Neurology research scholarship; Wotiz family MD/PhD fellowship; Norris Cotton graduate student award, 31st Annual New England Pharmacologists meeting, Russek Student Achievement Award (second place)

Signature Publication:

Bari, A.A and R.C. Pierce. D1-like and D2 dopamine receptor antagonists administered into the shell subregion of the rat nucleus accumbens decrease cocaine, but not food, reinforcement. Neuroscience 135:959-968, 2005.


Sharvari Mankame, BS

Technician: Rutgers 2020 - 2022

Current Position: PhD Student, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Arizona State University

Samantha Worobey, BS

Technician: Rutgers 2020 - 2022

Current Position: Medical Student, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Phillip Huffman, BS

Undergraduate: Penn 2018 - 2020

Technician: Penn 2018 - 2020

Current Position: Medical Student, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Melissa Knouse, PhD

Technician: Penn 2016 - 2018

Current Position: PhD, Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University

Arthur Thomas, MD

Technician: Penn 2016 - 2018

Subsequent Education: MD, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Current Position: Resident, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

John Maurer, PhD

Technician: Penn 2014 - 2017

Subsequent Education: PhD in Neuroscience, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Current Position: 

Duncan Van Nest, MD

Technician: Penn 2014 - 2016

Subsequent Education: MD, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Current Position: Orthopedic Surgery Residency, Albert Einstein Healthcare Network.

Adrian C. Arreola

Technician: Penn 2012 - 2015

Subsequent Education: DMD, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine

Current Position: Chief Pediatric Dental Resident, The Mount Sinai Hospital

Rachel L. Schassburger (Panas)

Technician: Penn 2014 - 2016

Subsequent Education: MS in Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh

Current Position: Research Compliance Specialist, Penn State College of Medicine

Thomas J. Hopkins

Technician: Penn 2011 - 2013

Subsequent Education: 

Current Position: Developer at Jackpot

Michael C. McMullen

Technician: Penn 2011 - 2013

Subsequent Education: 

Current Position: 

Brian R. Inderwies

Technician: BU 2003 - 2004

Current Position: Director Data Science, Securitas Technology