Division of Intramural Research

Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity

3D reconstruction of central amygdala neuron

Yarimar Carrasquillo, Ph.D., leads the Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity Section in the NCCIH Intramural Division. The main goal of the lab is to identify anatomical, molecular, and cellular mechanisms that underlie pathological pain states. Research will focus on the amygdala, a structure in the limbic brain system that plays critical roles in the modulation of tactile hypersensitivity, pain-related aversion learning, and pain-induced changes in anxiety-related behaviors in rodent models of persistent pain.

Electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that increased excitability of amygdala neurons correlates with persistent pain, suggesting that hyperexcitability of neurons in the amygdala plays a critical role in the modulation of pain hypersensitivity. The specific conductance pathways affected and the molecular mechanisms underlying plasticity of the intrinsic excitability of amygdala neurons, however, are not known. In addition, the physiological role(s) of changes in the excitability of amygdala neurons to pain-related behaviors remain undefined. Research in the lab addresses these questions directly by combining behavioral, biochemical, electrophysiological, pharmacologic and molecular genetic approaches.

Parallel studies in the lab use anatomical, behavioral, electrophysiological, and optogenetic approaches to define how alterations in the excitability of amygdala neurons affect function at a circuit level. These studies focus on evaluating the physiological impact of the modulation of neuronal excitability in distinct anatomical pathways to and from the amygdala on different components of persistent pain, including the sensory, affective, and cognitive components.

We are now accepting postdoc applications! Submit your application to Dr. Yarimar Carrasquillo.

Lab Chief

carrasquillo yarimar_Lisa Helfert

Dr. Yarimar Carrasquillo joined the Pain and Integrative Neuroscience  Branch of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as an Investigator in 2014. In her lab, Dr. Carrasquillo directs a multifaceted, multidisciplinary research program focused on delineating the anatomical, molecular, and cellular mechanisms that underlie pain perception and modulation.

Dr. Carrasquillo received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor College of Medicine. She started her scientific career by studying the molecular basis of learning and memory as a Minority Biomedical Research Support Program (MBRS) Undergraduate Trainee in the lab of Dr. Sandra Peña de Ortiz. She continued studying the neural mechanisms underlying behavior during her graduate training in the lab of Dr. Robert W. Gereau at Baylor College of Medicine.

Her graduate work revealed critical roles for the amygdala in the modulation of persistent pain and also demonstrated that the extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK) plays a role in this process. Her postdoctoral studies in the lab of Dr. Jeanne Nerbonne at Washington University School of Medicine revealed previously unappreciated molecular and functional diversity of repolarizing voltage-gated K+ currents in central neurons.

Lab Members

Barbara Benowitz

Barbara Benowitz, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Barbara Benowitz is a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Barbara graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is interested in studying the role of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain-related behaviors as well as the neurocircuitry associated with reward behaviors and motivation. She is currently contributing to a project looking at the central amygdala–zona incerta pathway specifically and its involvement in chronic pain modulation. She can be reached at barbara.benowitz@nih.gov or 301-594-2477.

Sarah Chaudhry

Sarah Chaudhry, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Sarah Chaudry is a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Sarah graduated from Michigan State University in 2020 with a dual degree in neuroscience and Spanish. Sarah is interested in investigating the electrophysiological properties of neurons located in the central nucleus of the amygdala to further understand the mechanisms that direct the brain’s modulation of pain. She is currently contributing to a project focused on characterizing the synaptic and intrinsic membrane properties of neurons in the parabrachial-central amygdala pathway.

Adela Francis-Malave

Adela Francis-Malavé, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Adela Francis-Malavé is a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Adela graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, in 2020 with a B.S. in biology with an emphasis in cellular and molecular biology. She is interested in understanding the brain circuits that underlie pain-related behaviors and the different pharmacologic approaches that can produce antinociception in mouse models of inflammatory pain. Other research topics of interest to Adela are neurodegenerative diseases and autoimmune diseases of the nervous system. Adela is currently working on evaluating the potential antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effect of 4R-cembranoid, a novel positive allosteric modulator type 2 of alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, in a mouse model of inflammatory pain. She can be reached at adela.francismalave@nih.gov.

Research Publications:

Butler-Fernández KM, Ramos Z, Francis-Malavé AM, Bloom J, Dharmawardhane S, Hernández E. Synthesis, anti-cancer and anti-migratory evaluation of 3,6 dibromocarbazole and 5-bromoindole derivatives. Molecules. 2019;24(15):2686.

Luis Rivera

Luis Rivera, Predoctoral Fellow

Luis Rivera is a predoctoral fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Luis graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, in 2014 with a B.S. in chemistry. He is currently studying how 4R-cembranoid, a compound found in tobacco leaf, positively modulates the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor allosterically using electrophysiology in vitro. In addition, he is also examining how this modulation ameliorates inflammatory pain-related behaviors in vivo. He can be reached at luis.rivera2@nih.gov

Sudhuman Singh

Sudhuman Singh, Ph.D., Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow

Sudhuman Singh, Ph.D., is a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. He is interested in understanding the neural mechanisms underlying behavioral outputs and has trained in multidisciplinary research fields in neuroscience, including sleep, reinforcement learning, and pain. While at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Sudhuman is delineating the neural circuitry involved in pain modulation. He is passionate about science, and his motivation is to serve humanity through his research knowledge and life experiences. He can be reached at sudhuman.singh@nih.gov or 301-594-2477.

Omar Soler-Cedena

Omar Soler-Cedeno, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Omar Soler-Cedeno, Ph.D., is a National Institute of General Medical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) Program fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Omar earned his Ph.D. at the Ponce Health Sciences University in the laboratory of James T. Porter, where he studied the ventral hippocampus and prefrontal cortex connectivity using animal models of post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure therapy. His long-term goal is to become an independent investigator and establish a research program that will combine state-of-the-art neurocircuitry tools and behavioral approaches to study chronic pain and mental health comorbidity. He currently combines ex vivo and in vivo approaches to study the synaptic dynamics of the parabrachial nucleus-to-central amygdala ascending pathway using rodent models of neuropathic and inflammatory pain. He can be reached at omar.soler-cedeno@nih.gov or at 301-594-2477.

Jeitzel Rodriguez Torres

Jeitzel Torres, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Jeitzel Torres is a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Jeitzel graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, in 2020 with a B.S. in biology. Jeitzel is interested in studying pain at the behavioral and circuit levels using mouse models, with the goal of obtaining a M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. Also, she would like to assess lateralization of these circuits and compare female and male data. Currently, Jeitzel is working on determining the function of the parabrachial-central amygdala pathway in pain-related behaviors in the context of injury. She can be reached at jeitzel.torres-rodriguez@nih.gov.

Torri Wilson

Torri Wilson, Lab Manager and Biologist

Torri Wilson is lab manager and biologist in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. Torri joined the lab in April 2014. She graduated from the Virginia State University in Petersburg in 1995 with a B.S. in animal sciences. Torri has extensive research experience as an animal biologist and is interested in expanding her knowledge of the amygdala and its role in modulating pain. While in the lab, Torri received the Director’s Merit Award for exemplary performance in the completion of the experiments that demonstrated the dual and opposite function of the central amygdala in pain. Torri has a passion for conducting surgeries and behavioral testing and assists with animal colony maintenance and laboratory management. Torri is currently working on parabrachial-central amygdala intersectional studies in the lab.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Lab Alumni

Anisha Adke

Anisha Adke, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Anisha Adke was a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2018 to 2020. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 2018 with a major in biology. While in the lab Anisha contributed to the characterization of different cell types in the central amygdala, the parabrachial-to-central amygdala circuit, and the zona incerta-to-central amygdala circuit. She is currently an M.D./Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Helena Hyesook Ahn

Helena Hyesook Ahn, Biologist

Helena Ahn was a biologist in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2015 to 2017. She received her master’s degree in molecular immunology at the University of Seoul in Seoul, South Korea and received her Ph.D. degree in neurobiology at the Graduate School of Medical Science, The Catholic University of Korea, in Seoul, South Korea. While in the Carrasquillo Lab, Helena examined how the intrinsic excitability of amygdala neurons is modulated by persistent pain using electrophysiology. In addition, she investigated the role of amygdala neurons in anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in mouse models of neuropathic pain. Helena is currently the operations coordinator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Simon

Simon Arango, Summer Student Trainee and Special Volunteer

Simon Arango was a summer student and special volunteer in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in 2015. He graduated from the Magnet Program at Poolesville High School in 2017. While in the lab, Simon worked on characterizing ERK activation in the brain using a model of inflammatory pain. He also mapped brain regions that receive projections from the PKCδ-expressing neurons using a cre-dependent anterograde tracer in PKCδ-cre mice. Simon is currently a rising senior at Harvard College majoring in neuroscience and East Asian studies, and a research data specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. His work contributed to the publication “Dual and Opposing Functions of the Central Amygdala in the Modulation of Pain,” as mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Yonatan Arnold

Yonatan Arnold, Summer Student Trainee and Special Volunteer

Yonatan Arnold joined the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in January 2015. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and history in 2011 from Mars Hill University in North Carolina. While in the lab, Yonatan assisted with histological experiments and quantification of images. He is currently in an Amazon Web Service (AWS) re/Start course through Per Scholas, which is an intense and thorough course in gaining experience in using the AWS cloud service. After this course, he aims to pursue a position to help those who need to improve their tools in the health care field.

Jordan Becker

Jordan Becker, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Jordan Becker was a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2018 to 2019. He graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in psychology. While in the lab, he studied the morphology of specific cell types in the central amygdala, if different central amygdala cells modulate affective outcomes during formalin-induced pain, and how environmental conditions impact the expression of comorbidities during chronic pain. While at the National Institutes of Health he won an outstanding poster award and gained acceptance to the Brown-Graduate Partnership Program (GPP). He is currently a second-year graduate student in the Brown-GPP.

Research Publications:

Becker JJ, Carrasquillo Y. Projections, where art thou: the state and future of the central amygdala. Journal of Physiology. 2019;597(2):365-366.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Michelle Guevara

Michelle Guevara, Summer Student Trainee and Special Volunteer

Michelle Guevara was a summer student and a special volunteer as a junior in high school in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2018 to 2020. She graduated in 2020 from the Academy of Health Professions at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland. While in the lab, her project was to identify the efferent projection of somatostatin-expressing (Som) cells and cortical releasing hormone (CRH)-expressing cells in the central amygdala using the anterograde tracer AAV8-DIO-mCherry and immunostaining to determine the unknown anatomical circuit involved in the cell-type specific modulation of pain in the central amygdala. Michelle is currently a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing a major in neuroscience.

Sara Hong

Sara Hong, Summer Student Trainee

Sara Hong was a summer student in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in 2016 and 2017. She graduated from Poolesville High School in 2017. While in the lab, she studied spontaneous nociceptive responses and changes in affective behaviors in a mouse model of neuropathic pain as well as the effects of inhibitory Gi-DREADDs in pain processing and their relationship with ERK activation in the amygdala. She is currently a student at Wake Forest University pursuing a double major in health and exercise science and politics and international affairs.

Aleisha Khan

Aleisha Khan, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Aleisha was a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2016 to 2018. She graduated from Duke University in 2015 with a B.S. in neuroscience. She received her master’s degree in physiology in 2019 from Georgetown University. While in the lab, she examined the bidirectional modulation of pain in the central amygdala. She conducted electrophysiology experiments, examining the firing properties of genetically distinct populations of neurons in the central amygdala in the context of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Aleisha also assisted with immunohistochemistry experiments and anatomical mapping. Furthermore, she conducted electrophysiology experiments examining the baseline properties of genetically distinct cells in the central amygdala. During this time, she received the Clinical and Basic Science Data Blitz Presentation Award from the American Pain Society in 2018 at the Scientific Summit in Anaheim, California. She also received the $500 Poster Presentation Award in 2018 at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Intramural Scientific Retreat in Bethesda, Maryland. Aleisha will pursue her medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia beginning in fall 2021.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Jon MacLeod

Jon MacLeod, Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Jon MacLeod joined the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in June 2014. He received a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jon used anatomical and histological approaches to determine the molecular identity of nociceptive-responsive neurons in different regions along the pain neuraxis.

Santiago Martinez Gonzalez

Santiago Martinez Gonzalez, Postdoctoral Fellow

Santiago Martinez Gonzalez joined the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in September 2016, working part-time as a special volunteer, and transitioned to a postdoctoral fellow in June 2017. He received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park and completed a medical degree at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia. While in the lab Santiago worked on a project that aimed to establish the underlying brain mechanisms by which chronic visceral pain develops and persists in the absence of measurable pathology in the viscera and its relationship with maladaptive changes in affective behaviors. He conducted experiments designed to optimize dextran sodium sulfate as a model of colitis in mice to produce measurable disease, pathology, and mechanical visceral hypersensitivity. In addition, he studied the modulation of heat and cold hypersensitivity by Som and PKCd neurons in the central amygdala and the parabrachial-central amygdala circuit in a mouse model of neuropathic pain. He received the Neuroscience Scholars Program (NSP) Professional Development Award and the US-Canada Regional Committee of International Brain Research Organization Fellowship Award in 2019, and was a Society for Neuroscience NSP Associate in 2018–2019. He is currently pursuing admission to a medical residency program.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Caren Pichardo

Caren Pichardo, Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellow

Caren Pichardo was a pediatric gastroenterology fellow at Children's National who worked in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2016 to 2018. She received her medical degree in 2008 at Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and completed her pediatric residency in 2015 at Miami Children’s Hospital. While in the lab, Caren examined the modulation of pain-related behaviors by the amygdala in a rodent model of visceral pain. Caren is currently a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist at Unity Healthcare in Washington, D.C.

Gary Soroosh

Garshasb (Gary) Soroosh, Summer Student Trainee

Garshasb (Gary) Soroosh was a summer student in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity in 2014 and 2015. He graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a concentration in physiology and neurobiology. While in the lab, Gary contributed to projects analyzing the molecular characterization of nociceptive neurons in the amygdala and their anatomical projections. In addition, he also studied the anatomical localization of a molecular signal for pain in the mouse brain, as well as time-dependent expression of molecular signals in the amygdala in mouse models of inflammatory pain. Gary is currently a medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and will be pursuing residency training in internal medicine after graduating in May 2021.

Yae Sugimura Carrasquillo Lab Alumni

Yae Sugimura, Special Volunteer

Yae Sugimura was a special volunteer in the Carrasquillo Lab from 2017-2018. She graduated from Hiroshima University in 2007 with a Major in Health Sciences. She received her PhD in Neuroscience in 2016 from the Jikei University School of Medicine. While in the lab, she examined the synaptic plasticity in the brain pain network.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn HS, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK and Carrasquillo Y. “Dual and Opposing Functions of the Central Amygdala in the Modulation of Pain.” Cell Rep., 29 (2019), pp. 332-346.e5. Dual and Opposing Functions of the Central Amygdala in the Modulation of Pain - ScienceDirect

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn HS, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, and Carrasquillo Y. “Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala”. eNeuro. 2021 Jan 22;8(1):0402-20 Cell-Type Specificity of Neuronal Excitability and Morphology in the Central Amygdala | eNeuro

Spring Valdivia Torres

Spring Valdivia Torres, Ph.D.

Spring Valdivia Torres was a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity from 2016 to 2018. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 2010 at the National University of La Plata (Buenos Aires, Argentina). She received her Ph.D. in 2015 from the same university. While in the lab, Spring contributed to several projects analyzing visceral pain, the zona incerta’s role in pain modulation, central amygdala projections, and more. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology Lab at the Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas Clemente Estable (IIBCE) in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Research Publications:

Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Adke AP, Gonzalez SM, Sugimura YK, Carrasquillo Y. Dual and opposing functions of the central amygdala in the modulation of pain. Cell Reports. 2019;29(2):332-346.

Adke AP, Khan A, Ahn H-S, Becker JJ, Wilson TD, Valdivia S, Sugimura YK, Gonzalez SM, Carrasquillo Y. Cell-type specificity of neuronal excitability and morphology in the central amygdala. eNeuro. 2021;8(1):ENEURO.0402-20-2020.

Daniela Velasquez

Daniela Velasquez, Summer Student Trainee and Special Volunteer

Daniela Velasquez was a special volunteer in 2015 and a summer student in 2016 and 2017 in the Section on Behavioral Neurocircuitry and Cellular Plasticity. She graduated in 2019 from Towson University with a degree in biology. While in the lab, Daniela analyzed the efferent projections of PKCδ+ and Sst cells in the central amygdala and also designed a 3D reconstruction of the mouse brain pertaining to pain “on” and pain “off” cells. Daniela is currently pursuing a master of biological sciences at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, planning to graduate in 2021. Afterward, she plans to attend medical school. Prior to applying to master’s programs, she worked as a medical scribe for a year at a gastroenterology office in hopes of gaining first-hand medical experience while obtaining clinical hours.

Publications

Full list of publications for Yarimar Carrasquillo, Ph.D. on PubMed.

Videos

NCCIH at 20: Dr. Yarimar Carrasquillo Presents Neural Circuits of Chronic Pain and Analgesia