Current Lab Members

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. (Assistant Professor of Psychiatry) Susan’s primary research interest is understanding the impact of genetic and environmental liabilities for intellectual and developmental disorders (IDD) on neural circuit function. Her current focus is how IDD liabilities disrupt developmental trajectories, social circuits, motor function, and the roles in these areas of the serotonin, oxytocin, and opioid systems. 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.


Anthony Fischer, PhD (Postdoctoral Researcher) Tony earned his PhD at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he studied mRNA decay regulation by Pumilio proteins and how this regulation leads to control of ribosome biogenesis. He joined the Dougherty lab in fall 2019, with an interest in how novel mutations in the 3′ UTRs of certain genes could be affecting decay rates of mRNAs. His hobbies include cooking, beer brewing, his kids, and strength training.


Elena Minakova, MD, MS (Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, 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!


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) Jiayang Chen is a graduate student in Molecular and Cell Biology program. And Wiki is his secret English name that only several people know about. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at Fudan University, China. Before coming to WashU, he worked as research assistant to investigate brainstem synaptic function and visual system development in neurological disorders. In the Dougherty Lab, he has continued pursuing his interest in studying neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Other dreams (hobbies?) outside the lab: becoming a marine mammal zoologist, winning badminton Olympic gold medal, being recognized as a professional photographer, and traveling around the world.


Simona Sarafinovska (Graduate Student) is an MSTP candidate in the neuroscience program. She’s originally from Macedonia and came to the US for her undergrad at Columbia University. Her interest in molecular biology led her to a lab investigating how early-life adversity via epigenetic factors impacts later-life susceptibility to anxiety and depression. Now, she’s more broadly interested in developmental molecular and synaptic processes that drive maladaptive behaviors and susceptibility to psychiatric disorders. During her virtual rotation, she worked on analysis of behaviors in the opioid and Myt1L projects, with a focus on learning new pipelines and methods; she joined the lab in August ’20. In her free time, she loves traveling with her sister, watching TV, and pretending to read Russian literature.


Din Selmanovic (Graduate Student) Din is a graduate student in the Neuroscience program in the Dougherty Lab. Before coming to WashU, Din was a varsity athlete (good ‘ole long distance swimmer) who graduated with a BS in Neuroscience from the University of Cincinnati. At UC he worked with Dr. Matia Solomon looking at sex differences in HPA axis dysregulation and stress circuitry of Alzheimer’s Disease. Starting graduate school, he is interested in studying the molecular and genetic basis of sex differences in various neurodevelopmental, and psychiatric disorders. Outside of the lab, Din enjoys working out, reading books and buying weird and new ingredients he doesn’t know how to pronounce to cook with and then host friends for dinner (pre-COVID of course!)


Sarah Koester (Rotating Graduate Student) Sarah is a rotation student in the Molecular Cell Biology program. She majored in Biochemistry at the University of Southern Indiana, where she also finished an 11-year cross country and track career that can be described as mediocre at best. Afterwards, she spent 2 years as a research technician in the Di Cera lab at SLU studying enzyme allostery and conformational selection in trypsin-like proteases. Starting graduate school, she is broadly interested in the regulation and functional diversity of RNAs. Outside of the lab, she is the proud pawrent of 2 dogs, an expired runner with all intentions of starting back up again, and probably the only one laughing at her own jokes.


Kelli McFarland White, M.S. (Research Lab Supervisor) Kelli is excited to return to Washington University after a brief stint working for a medical device startup company.  Upon completing her Master’s (a long, long time ago) studying both the evolution of color vision in fishes as well as mandibular evolution of the African scaly-tailed flying squirrel, she enjoyed a year teaching high school biology.  The vast majority of her career, though, has been spent managing a biomedical engineering lab at WUSTL.  Outside of the lab, Kelli is a yoga teacher, a mom to a radical 3 year old, and a wife.  She loves being active outside; trail running, cycling, camping, and now even outdoor strength training (thanks, Covid).  Once upon a time, she even played roller derby and was a kickboxing instructor.  Kelli now finds contentment in her current, “gardening phase of life.”


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.


Raylynn Swift, M.A. (Research Technician) Raylynn Swift is a research assistant in the lab supporting mouse behavioral research. She graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2020 with a master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in behavioral neuroscience. At home, she has two rat roommates and is working on expanding her houseplant collection.



Katie McCullough (Research Technician)


Stephen Plassmeyer (Research 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. 


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.


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”.


Joelle Schneiderman (Undergraduate Researcher) Joelle is a first year student at Washington University at the College of Arts and Sciences.  She has not yet decided on a major, but is considering neuroscience and statistics.  In the lab, her work focuses on Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Outside the lab, Joelle swims butterfly on the WashU varsity swim team and enjoys cooking and working out.


Victoria Chen (Undergraduate Researcher)  Victoria is a Junior majoring in the Neuroscience track of the Biology major at WashU. She is originally from China and came to the US for high school in the east coast. She joined the lab in fall 2019 and have been working with Rachel to study healthy development and Rett syndrome in a mouse model using optical neuroimaging and behavioral testings. Outside of the lab, she enjoys working out, cooking, watching Netflix and spending time with her two cats and friends!


Rebecca Glick (Undergraduate Researcher) Rebecca is a senior majoring in Genomics and Computational Biology and minoring in Anthropology as well as Design. She is working with Kayla to characterize the density of serotonin and dopamine transporters in a complete deletion mouse model of Williams Syndrome. Outside the lab, you can find her hanging out with her cat named Piper, in Forest Park, or doing paint by numbers.