The McCool lab has had a long-standing interest in understanding the relationships between drugs of abuse and emotional behaviors like fear and anxiety. Specifically, we are trying to unravel the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern both the individual-by-individual variations in these behaviors and the effects of chronic drug exposure on these mechanisms.

Our research is focused on examining the effects of chronic alcohol exposure on the cellular and molecular neurophysiology of the amygdala, a brain region that is important for regulating emotional behaviors. To understand these complex relationships, we integrate numerous techniques including behavioral assays of anxiety and alcohol consumption, field EPSP and whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology using in vitro brain slice preparations, and cellular/molecular biological approaches like western analysis, single-cell RT-PCR, real-time RT-PCR, optogenetics, and chemogenetics.

Current Projects include

  • Circuit-level interactions between brain regions that control neurobiological responses to drug exposure
  • Dopaminergic modulation of BLA neurotransmission
  • Genetic and environmental mechanisms governing individual sensitivity to chronic drug exposure and withdrawal
  • Molecular and neurobiological mechanisms conferring resistance and vulnerability to chronic drug exposure across the life-span and across sexes
  • Ethanol modulation of presynaptic function and vesicle recycling

McCool Lab Research Highlights

McCool Lab Plasma Membrane Research Highlights

Lab Members

Present Members and Role Past Trainees (Current Position)

Nancy Alexander, Lab Manager
Ann Chappell, Technician
Brian Parrish, Technician
Molly McGinnis, Graduate Student (Neuro)
Ashkon Koucheki, Graduate Student (Neuro)
Sara Sizer, Graduate Student (IPP)



Jeff Farroni, Ph.D., J.D. (Asst. Prof, UTMB)
Anna Lack, Ph.D. (Asst. Teaching Prof., WFU)
Marvin Diaz, Ph.D. (Asst. Prof., Binghamton)
Dustin Dubois, Ph.D. (Res. Asst. Prof., TAMUHSC)
Dan Christian, Ph.D. (Asst. Prof, Des Moines)
Stacey Robinson, Ph.D. (Postdoc, UNC)
Dominic Gioia, Ph.D. (Postdoc, MUSC)
Melissa Morales, Ph.D. (Postdoc, Binghamton)

Current Funding

  • R01 AA014445-13 (PI), “Ethanol & Anxiety: Cellular Mechanisms”
  • R01 AA023999-04 (coPI), “Ethanol Dependence-induced Changes in Dopamine Signaling in Basolateral Amygdala”
  • P50 AA026117-01 (Project#3 PI, Scientific Director), “Adolescent Vulnerability to Chronic Ethanol”
  • T32 AA007565-25 (PI/Director), “Multidisciplinary Training in the Biology of Alcohol Addiction”