Principal Investigator

Joe Dougherty, PhD. (Lab Head) I am broadly interested in how a single genome creates the cellular diversity that is discovered in the brain, and how perturbations of specific cell types in the brain may lead to disorders of the nervous system, as well as alterations of normal behavior.  We approach these questions using the tools of mouse transgenics and conditional knockouts, but guide our studies using information gleaned from human genetics studies.    We are looking for postdocs and students.  Feel free to contact me.


Lab Members

Susan Maloney, PhD. (Instructor in Psychiatry) Susan’s research focuses on understanding the role of the serotonergic system in autism spectrum disorder-relevant behavioral phenotypes. When not sciencing, Susan spends small amounts of time enjoying a large variety of hobbies. She most enjoys spending time with friends and family and winning at board games.


Darshan Sapkota, PhD (Postdoctoral Researcher) Darshan studied the mechanisms that regulate neuronal differentiation from multipotent progenitors and earned a PhD from the State University of New York, Buffalo. As a postdoc in the lab, he is characterizing different neuronal cell types of the brain based on their translational profiles. Two things thrill him the most: scientific discoveries and Mark Knopfler’s songs. 


Mike Vasek, PhD (Postdoctoral Researcher) Mike earned his PhD in Neuroscience at WashU studying memory impairment and synapse elimination during viral encephalitis. His main research interests are mechanisms of learning and memory. Outside of the lab, Mike enjoys watching his 1-year-old son figure things out, cooking, playing ultimate frisbee, training his cats, and keeping African cichlids.


Elena Minakova, MD, MS (Collaborating Researcher) Elena is a Neonatologist at Saint Louis Children’s Hospital. She has a neuroscience research background and an MS degree with a specialization in Developmental Neurobiology. She is interested in performing mouse autism studies with potential for translational applications. In her free time, she enjoys running, skating, and spending as much time as possible with her one year old!


Claire Weichselbaum (Graduate Student) Claire is a graduate student in the Neuroscience program.  She is co-mentored by Dr. Dougherty and Dr. John Constantino, conducting translational autism studies in both mouse models and human subjects.  Outside of lab she enjoys fostering kittens, playing board games, and getting kids excited about science!  She is currently co-director of the Brain Discovery outreach program.


Bernie Mulvey (Graduate Student) Bernie is an MSTP in the neurosciences graduate program. His broad interests are in cellular mechanisms of disease and treatment in psychiatry, especially within neuromodulatory cell types. His thesis work is focused on regulatory sequences and their variants, and their impact on CNS cell types hypothesized to play roles in psychiatric disease. Bernie is the Grand Overlord of the website, twitter, and all of the one pages on the top-secret, VIP-only lab Wiki. Outside of the lab, he’s a not-so-closeted news, politics, and pharmacology nerd. The closest thing he has to a hobby is reading—favorites include David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” (yes, he’s really read it, and listens to the unabridged audiobook at least yearly) and Mark Z Danielewski’s “The Familiar.”


Rachel Rahn (Graduate Student) Rachel is a graduate student in the Neuroscience program, working in the Dougherty and Culver (WUSTL Radiology) labs. She is interested in using functional neuroimaging and behavioral testing in the study of both healthy and disordered development across time in mice. Outside of the lab, she enjoys hiking, playing board games, and discussing current events.


Tomas Lagunas, Jr. (Graduate Student) Tomas is a graduate student in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics program. He double majored as an undergraduate at UC Riverside, obtaining Bachelor’s degrees in Biological Sciences and Chemistry. Before coming to Wash U, he worked in San Diego for a biotech company doing gene editing for trait development in plants. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music, going to concerts, hiking, and hanging out with friends. 


Kayla Nygaard (Graduate Student) Kayla hails from small town Minnesota (cue John Mellencamp) where she grew up collecting ladybugs on dandelions and reading books by the light of the moon. She decided to study Biology at Carleton College and, when she wasn’t saving puppies from tornadoes, she spent her summers researching the coloration of lizards and learning how to lasso the little guys out in Colorado. Leaving the lizards behind in 2012, she joined Teach For America and spent the next 4 years trying to cram scientific knowledge into the brains of reluctant children in both Kentucky and Massachusetts. Kayla is now settling into life as a Molecular Genetics and Genomics graduate student and quite likes the opportunities in nearby Forest Park. You might catch her running or playing ultimate frisbee on a warm day when she’s not in lab. While she would love to study the effects of environmental stress on animal behavior through the lens of genetics, she thinks videotaping Nathan’s back-flipping mice is pretty fun too! Kayla also holds the record for longest submitted bio for the lab’s people page.


Allen Yen (Graduate Student) Allen is a graduate student in the Developmental, Regenerative, and Stem Cell Biology program. Before coming to WashU, he received a BS in biomedical engineering and a MS in biomedical research technologies from Boston University. He is interested in investigating the role of gene-environment interactions in the development of autism spectrum disorders. He is also interested in applying new technologies to address these complex questions. Outside of the lab, he enjoys camping, photography, and going to live music shows.


Jiayang Chen (Graduate Student)


Sean Brophy (Staff Scientist) Sean has returned to the School of Medicine after spending the past 15 years in the biotech sector focused primarily on crop transgenics.  He originally received his undergrad and grad degrees from Wash U, where his work included marker discovery on the human X chromosome at the Center for Genomics in Medicine, as well as work engineering Salmonella strains for human vaccine development in the lab of Roy Curtiss.


Yating Liu (Programmer) Yating has a Bachelor’s in biology, Masters in nutrition and computer science. She is interested in software development, data science/engineering, and getting new technical skills and etc. Besides these, she enjoys a variety of outdoor activities: running, hiking, biking, kayaking, and wandering at the zoo. She loves her cat named Maoqiu (furry ball) and is eager to get a big dog in the future.

Katie McCullough (Mouse Technician)


Stephen Plassmeyer (Lab Technician)


Jelani Deajon-Jackson (Undergraduate Researcher) Jelani is an undergrad at WashU who aims to major in the Neuroscience track of Biology and minor in Chemistry or Economics. He worked with Mike V. in Summer ’18 observing mRNA translation in the distal processes of microglia. Outside of the lab Jelani spends his time tutoring his fellow undergrads in the General Chemistry course or participating in the City Faces organization as a mentor for children in the Clinton-Peabody Public Housing community. He is connoisseur of unhealthy snacks, especially anything that contains excess cheese and salt.


Justine Garin (Undergraduate Research Technician) Justine is a senior undergrad at Wash U majoring in Biology with a double minor in Spanish and Global Health and the Environment. In the lab, she is working on an Alzheimer’s project with Darshan Sapkota as well as contributing to the CNIH-3 gene project on opiate addiction. She plans on taking a gap year before applying to medical school. Outside of lab she loves to hike, hammock and try new restaurants around the city.


Rena Silverman (Undergraduate Researcher) Rena is an undergrad at WashU majoring in Biology and planning to minor in Psychology. She is currently working with Susan to examine the impact of SSRI exposure during pregnancy on juvenile social behaviors in the mouse model.  This summer, she will work with Susan to use Fos, a neuronal activation marker, to localize brain activity during mouse pup vocalizations.  Outside of the lab, Rena enjoys running in Forest Park and spending time with friends.


Scott Lee (Undergraduate Researcher) Scott is a senior studying neuroscience at Saint Louis University who joined the lab as a 2019 ENDURE Scholar. This summer, he will work with Sean to study the 3′-UTR of SPARC (a protein secreted by astrocytes that regulates synaptogenesis) and Claire to determine what cell types in the brain are implicated in social reward. During his free time, Scott likes to study Korean, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic in hopes of becoming a true polyglot.


Dora Tabachnick (Undergraduate Researcher) Dora is an undergraduate student at WashU majoring in Neuroscience and double minoring in Children’s Studies and Spanish. She is currently working with Susan and Katie and is interested in the behavioral mice studies being conducted in the lab. Dora plans on attending medical school and would like to practice as a surgeon. Outside of the lab, Dora enjoys practicing Tae Kwon do, watching movies and running her club “WashU’s Save a Child’s Heart”.

Lab Graduates

Mike Rieger, PhD (Graduate Student) Mike is interested in the cellular and genetic mechanisms that may underlie complex social behavior, organization and communication in higher animals. He is also interested in developing new technology, assays and approaches to address these questions.  He is a hobby linguist with specific interests in phonotactics, diachronic phonology and Arabic and Romance dialectology. You can find him serving as co-moderator of the Arabic & Etymology and History of Languages fora at He is also an avid collector of vinyl records and a committed commuter cyclist and user of public transit. Mike has started his post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences where he is studying genes and circuits contributing to individual variability in behavior phenotypes in C. elegans.


Robert Boston Photograph DBBS Lab shots in the BJH Institute of Health
Kristina Sakers, PhD (Graduate Student) Kristina is in the Neurosciences program and is currently investigating local translation in perisynaptic astrocyte processes. She is from NJ and a graduate of Rutgers University. Outside of lab she enjoys working out, playing IM sports and spending time with her perfect mini aussie, Zooey. Krissy is soon headed to Duke to start her postdoctoral work in the lab of Cagla Eroglu, studying how synaptic proteins influence astrocyte structure and how astrocytes influence synapse formation and stabilization!


Rebecca Ouwenga (Graduate Student) Rebecca is a graduate student in Molecular Genetics and Genomics program. Her work in the lab was in synaptic translational localization and regulation, including among different cell types.


Nathan Kopp (Graduate Student) Nathan is a graduate student in the Human and Statistical Genetics program. He is interested in understanding the genetic contributions to animal social behavior. He is from IL and is an alumnus of Truman State University. He enjoys volleyball and reading. Nathan successfully defended his thesis on Williams’ syndrome genetics in mice and humans in May 2019, and is now studying to be a clinical laboratory geneticist at UCLA!


Alumni Lab Members

Haley Crosby (Research Technician) Haley is a recent grad of WashU with majors in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology as well as Biology. She worked for two years with Mike V. exploring the mechanism by which microglia interact with neuronal cells, and what role they play in synaptic pruning. She spends her time outside the lab planning programs as a residential adviser, going to local elementary schools with the neuroscience outreach program ‘Synapse’, and relaxing with a good book and good music. Haley defended her undergraduate thesis in Spring 2018, completing her undergraduate thesis work with the Dougherty lab. In 2018-19, she worked as a clinical scribe while studying gene expression in human CNS tissue with Bernie. Haley is now on her way to medical school!


Chengran Yang (Graduate Student) Chengran is a graduate student in the Human and Statistical Genetics program. He is interested in developing a statistical framework of inference for gene regulatory networks using RNA-seq and other next generation sequencing data. He is now in the lab of Dr. Carlos Cruchaga.


Selma Avdagic (Post-Baccalaureate Researcher) Selma graduated from Saint Louis University with a dual Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Psychology and German and recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Premedical Studies at Washington Unviersity. She has more than 5 years of research experience with Drosophila melanogaster and joined the Dougherty lab to gain more research experience. Her interests outside of academics and lab include interior design, photography and spending time outdoors with family, friends and her dog, Luna. 

Allie Lake (Programmer) Allie has a Bachelor’s in math and computer science, but is pursuing a career in medicine. After graduating from Haverford and working as a software developer in Boston, she is happily back in her hometown of St. Louis. Allie’s hobbies include running, hiking, reading novels, dabbling in various musical instruments, and walking her very lively Dachshund mix. After three very productive years–over half a dozen authorships, and a first-author manuscript in progress from an independent analytical human genomics project–Allie is off to Vanderbilt on a full ride as an MD-PhD student!


Mara Cowen (Undergraduate Researcher) Mara is a 2017 AMGEN Scholar [summer research program] from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina. She is majoring in developmental neuroscience with an interest in the molecular basis of neurodevelopmental disorders. In her spare time Mara enjoys travel, ceramics, and binge watching Netflix. Mara will be starting her PhD studies in fall 2018!


Lucia Grandison (Undergraduate Researcher) Lucia is an undergrad at WashU and a prospective Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology major with a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She works with Dr. Sapkota validating novel gene calling cards using primary cell lines. Outside of the lab, she participates in multiple on-campus performance groups, including The Ghost Lights a cappella, Black Anthology, and Carnaval. She is known amongst friends for randomly slipping into a surprisingly convincing British accent and spontaneously bursting into song. Her current musical obsessions include Rent and Hamilton: An American Musical.


Celine St. Pierre (Rotation Student) Celine is a first year student in the Human and Statistical Genetics program. She is broadly interested in the influence of genes and environment on psychiatric traits. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she was a lab manager for three years in Chicago and San Diego. She’s now returned to her native St. Louis for graduate school. Outside of lab, Celine enjoys listening to music, watching TV, and playing pub trivia.


Yige (Alica) Wu (Rotation Student) Alica comes from Zhejiang, a place known as Land of Fish and Rice in eastern coastal China. She traveled north to Peking University to study biology for her undergraduate degree. She’s now working on pan-cancer proteomics, particularly kinase-substrate phosphorylation networks. Outside of lab, she enjoys things friendly to mind-wandering, which include hiking, going to concerts and watching movies. Yige has joined the Li Ding lab for her graduate work!


Rohan Khazanchi (Undergraduate Researcher) Rohan is from Omaha, NE majoring in Biology (Neuroscience concentration) with minors in Music and Psychology. He did two years of work with Joe and Kristina on investigating local RNA translation in peripheral astrocyte processes. Rohan’s interests at WashU outside of the lab include performing around campus/St. Louis with various music groups and trying to discover St. Louis’s best milkshakes. Rohan has left the lab and is headed for med school!


Hanyue “Cecilia” Lei (Rotation Student) Cecilia is a first year graduate student in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics program. She is working on developing a novel qPCR strategy that will allow the identification of mRNA translation initiation sites in depolarized neurons. Outside of lab, she enjoys watching animes and traveling around.


Dionnet Bhatti (Rotation Student) Dionnet hails from Georgia where he received his bachelor degrees in biology and psychology from the University of Georgia. He is interested in delineating neural circuits that mediate motivated behaviors in both healthy and neuropsychiatric disease states. Outside the lab, Dionnet enjoys making music, pushing wood on wheels, and snuggling with his cat named Kween. Dionnet is now in the lab of Michael Greengard at Rockefeller, and we are currently collaborating with him on a TRAP-based project.


Diana Christian (Rotation Student) Diana is a student in the neuroscience graduate program. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio. She’s interested in how genetic changes relate to behavior and neuropsychiatric diseases. When not in the lab, Diana enjoys baking, cooking, listening to podcasts, and playing board games.


Christine Jakes (Post-Baccalaureate)Christine is in the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical program at Washington University. She is starting medical school in Fall 2017, pursuing a career in psychiatry. Christine is interested in maternal influences on prenatal brain development. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, crafting, and volunteering.  Christine is from Chicago and is a proud alumna of the Fighting Illini.


Travis Mazer (Rotation Student) worked with the Dougherty lab as a first year graduate student in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics program. He is interested in studying neonatal levels of androgens’ effects on the development of sexually dimorphic behavior, brain anatomy, and genetic expression. He is originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan and received his bachelor’s in Neuroscience from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Outside of the lab, he is an avid political and house/jazz music junky, and will gladly explain why any beer not made in Michigan is inferior.


Shyam Akula (Undergraduate Researcher) Shyam has left us to start his new endeavor as an MD/PhD student at Harvard!! A born and raised southern Californian, Shyam came to Washington University in St. Louis (class of 2016) to study Neuroscience with minors in Psychology and Global Health. Outside of academic or research work, he teaches music, and watches way too much television.

Megha Varghese (Undergraduate Researcher)


Evelyn Shen (Undergraduate Researcher) Evelyn is currently at Washington University in St. Louis majoring in Anthropology: Global Health and Environment with a minor in Medical Humanities. She is a Texan through and through, and outside of the lab, she enjoys visiting farmers markets and running around to explore the city. She hopes to pursue an MD program after graduating.


Tami copy
Tami Markovic (Rotation Student, Neurosciences) Tami comes from Serbia and graduated with bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology and Toxicology from SUNY at Buffalo. She is interested in studying mechanisms behind drug addiction and pain management. Outside the lab, she enjoys in playing tennis, cooking (yay food) and traveling. Tami has joined the lab of Jose Moron-Concepcion at Wash U for her thesis.


Sabin Nettles - Photo
Sabin Nettles (Rotation student, Neurosciences) Sabin worked with the Dougherty lab as a first year graduate student in the Neuroscience program. She is interested in researching the mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, namely autism and schizophrenia, by studying the transcriptome and proteome in the brain. She is a Nashville, Tennessee native and graduate of Boston College. Outside of the lab, she enjoys playing and watching soccer and is a devout Passion Pit fan.


David O’Brien (Programmer) David has a Master’s degree in bioinformatics. He worked on a project that explores cell-specific non-coding RNAs. In his spare time he develops automated trading strategies for foreign currency trading and enjoys hiking and recreational sports. Having recently moved to St. Louis he is trying to become Rams fan, but the team’s constant foibles are making the task very difficult. David recently accepted a job at Mercy Hospital!


Krystal Chandler(Post-Baccalaureate)


Satchel Siegel (Undergraduate Researcher) Satchel Siegel graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. He studied Neuroscience and Healthcare Management and would like to pursue an MD/MBA degree in the future. Outside of the classroom he enjoys babysitting for children with Autism and spending time on the golf course. Satchel is currently working in Chicago.


Adarsh Reddy, PhD (Psychiatry Resident, Postdoctoral Fellow)
 Adarsh completed his medical school in St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India and then got his PhD in Neuroscience at Washington University under the guidance of Mark Sands. His hobbies include playing cricket, swimming, occasional salsa dancing, following technology news and he is beginning experimentation with fusion cuisine. Adarsh is off to NJ with his wife to begin his career as a physician scientist!


Yifan Meng (Undergraduate Researcher) Yifan majored in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience. Aside from the sciences, she works with a nonprofit organization called Styleta. She likes truly random things such as shredded cheese, political commentaries by Jon Stewart and colorful fashion editorials. In her spare time, she likes to visit tumblr and reblog posts excessively. Her pet peeves include writing autobiographies.

Allyson Mallya (Undergraduate Researcher) Allyson graduated and left us for graduate school! Thanks for your help Allyson.


Sukrit Singh (Undergraduate Researcher) Sukrit is an international student from New Delhi, India, and is double majoring in molecular biology and chemistry. He is interested in the cellular and chemical mechanisms that result in various disorders and conditions. Beyond video games, he enjoys sports and is particularly fond of martial arts and soccer. When he’s not strumming away on his sitar or hanging out with friends, he can usually be found reading a good book or tinkering with code.

Samir Shah (Undergraduate Researcher)Samir is originally from Lexington, Kentucky. He is currently majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Biology and public health. Outside of academics, he enjoys playing outdoor sports, running, and spending time with friends. Additionally, he eats too much candy and drinks too many sodas.


Nilu Pisat, PhD (Research Assistant) After two awesome years helping get the lab up and running, Nilu has headed out to spend more time with her (super cute) kids.  She still comes to lab parties sometimes though. She is missed!


Han Yuan (Undergraduate Researcher) Han is an international student from Nanjing, China, and a rising senior at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is majoring in Biology and Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. Outside of class, he enjoys sports, computer games, and hang out with friends.  He’s off to graduate school at Cornell.  Congrats Han!


Alan Wells (Masters Student) Alan Wells is a graduate student originally from San Diego, California. He is currently finishing his Masters in Biostatistics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis with a focus in statistical genetics. His work in the Dougherty lab focused on region/cell specific expression analysis. Outside of the lab, his interests are frisbee golf, computers, and whatever activities St. Louis has to offer at the current time of year.


Photo on 6-9-13 at 4.00 PM
Afua Adutwumwa Akuffo (Research Technician II) Afua Akuffo, popularly known as Chu Chu, graduated with honors in B.S. Biology from Lafayette College, Easton PA. Chu Chu was our Research Technician/ Mini Lab Manager. Her main project focused on reprogramming fibroblasts into hypocretin neurons using transcription factors and microRNAs, and testing the effects of various transcription factors on the hypocretin promoter. Additionally, Chu Chu maintained our mouse colony. Her goal in life is to cure cancer and to have twin boys with middle names Crick-Franklin and Watson-Franklin.


Euna Park (Undergraduate Researcher) Euna Park is currently at the Washington University in St. Louis. She is a premed student, working towards a history major with a biology minor. She is involved with Night Off, a student run organization providing childcare for autistic children. In her free time, she enjoys playing violin, writing, and drawing.


Eakta Khangura Eakta is a Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Student at Washington University.  Currently a long-term volunteer, she is very broadly interested in exploring the links between biomedical research and its application to healthcare and medicine.  Her free time largely revolves around british television and reading.


Lab pic
Rohit Jaswaney(Undergraduate Researcher – Jointly with Adish Dani lab) Rohit is currently at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a premed student majoring in Biology and minoring Psychology. Rohit is currently involved in City Faces, a program that pairs undergraduates with inner city children to serve as mentors and tutors. In his free time he likes to read, listen to music, and play basketball.


Kellie Wilson (Undergraduate Researcher) Kellie Wilson is currently at Washington University. She is majoring in a combination of Philosophy, Neuroscience, and Psychology, and minoring in Biomedical Physics. She plans to pursue a PhD in neuroscience after graduation. Outside of the lab, she is involved in leading an after school dance club at a local Middle School and leads calculus tutoring groups for freshmen students. If she has free time, she loves to curl up with a good book and read in the sunshine, listen to her country music, or keep up on some of her skills from gymnastics.


Jasbir Dalal, Ph.D (Staff Scientist)