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School of Medicine Columbia

  • Neuron microscopy

Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience

Our mission is to provide expert instruction and conduct innovative research in neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology. Our faculty members teach students of medicine, nurse anesthesia, physician assistants and biomedical science in the classroom and the laboratory.

Join Our Team

The Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine in Columbia, SC invites applications for an exciting Bridge to Faculty Fellowship program designed to attract, support, and retain scholars from historically underrepresented groups. Successful fellows will have the opportunity to directly transition to a tenure track faculty position at USC. Scholars will join a highly successful, collegial, and collaborative neuroscience-focused department at a Carnegie R1 research university that has achieved national prominence in research, education, and community engagement.

Apply Here


Our Department

We have an active research focus in the neuroscience research and take full advantage of the University of South Carolina's status as a Tier 1 research university. Using cutting edge technology to aid in the understanding of neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders, we provide insight into new treatment strategies and targets for these devastating diseases.

The faculty work across disciplines in numerous collaborative projects, and we have a strong neuroscience research portfolio with over $10 million dollars in extramurally funded research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), the Veterans Administration and numerous foundations and endowment funds, including the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and the American Heart Association. 

Faculty Research 

Our dedicated faculty are leaders in research spanning a wide range of neuroscience-based areas including activities focus on the roles of specific molecules in cellular function and their importance to organismal physiology and behavior. Their work is published in high quality publications in high tier journals such as Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Biological Psychiatry, Molecular Psychiatry, Brain, Behavior & Immunity, PLoS One, Journal of Neuroscience, Diabetes, Neuroscience, Nanotechnology, Psychopharmacology and Experimental Neurology.

  • Functional properties of GABAA and glutamate receptors:  David Mott
  • GABAA receptor modulators in seizure disorders:  David Mott
  • Glutamate receptors in epileptogenesis: David Mott

Our Core Facilities

Viral Vector Core 

Our full-service viral vector core produces virus-based platforms for gene delivery.  It is directed by Sujit Pujhari

Machine Shop

Our machine shop fabricates and repairs custom lab equipment and renovates laboratory space.  It is supervised by Mike Gore.

PPN News

  • Dr. Ana Pocivavsek, along with Jessica Bradshaw, Sarah Edmunds and Homay Valafar received funding from the Carolina Autism and Neurodevelopment (CAN) Center Pilot Grant Program.  The project is entitled: Translational Investigation of Peripartum Sleep in Mother and Child: Relevance to Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research.  
  • Dr. Joanna Appell was nominated for a Two Thumbs Up Award. This award recognizes USC faculty and staff members that have made a significant difference in an experience for a student with disabilities at the University. 
  • Dr. Kevin LeBlanc and his team received a Nurse Anesthesia Traineeship Grant  funded by Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)/HHS to support students in the Nurse Anesthesia program.
  • Kitty Tryon (PI) along with Nick Maxwell, Devin Kellis and Ana Pocivavsek received a new grant from the DANA Foundation entitled: “Increasing Accessibility of Neuroscience Outreach in South Carolina” to fund outreach activities during Brain Awareness Week, educational activities in school plus hosting an SC Brain Bee.
  • Dr. Cora Smiley (Postdoctoral fellow with Susan Wood mentor) has been named an ASPET Washington Fellow with the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
  • Ana Pocivavsek is selected as a 2022 Breakthrough Star
  • Dr. Aaron Jasnow (PI) receives NIH funding from his award with Kent State entitled: “Pathways regulating fear in the nucleus accumbens” 
  • Dr. Joanna Appell receives an Innovative Pedagogy grant from the USC Center Teaching Excellence for changes to PHPH750 including adding 3D printed brain models, and she is also appointed to the IAMSE 2023 Annual Program Committee (International Association of Medical Science Educators)
  • Dr. Mike Ryan received a NIH subcontract award entitled: "Placental ischemia, hypertension, and hemodynamics" 
  • Dr. Norma Frizzell received an Equipment Grant for a new Seahorse system through the Center for Targeted Therapeutics COBRE (Igor Roninson PI) entitled: “Metabolic Analysis Instrumentation To Enhance Targeted Therapeutics Studies” 
  • Drs. Joseph McQuail and Fiona Hollis along with Drs. Reilly Enos and Jason Kubinak received a supplemental project as part of the COBRE on Dietary Supplements and Inflammation (M. Nagarkatti PI) entitled “Metabolic Mechanisms and Interventions for Healthy Aging in Females”
  • Dr. Larry Reagan received the 2021 Dean's Sustained School of Medicine Service Award. 
  • Dr. Kevin LeBlanc received with the 2021 Dean's Leadership Award.  
  • Kristi Williams was named a Luminary Leader in Medicine and Science at the Scool of Medicine for her many contributions in founding and directing the Nurse Anesthesia Program.   
  • Dr. Britt Wilson received the 2021 O’Neill Barrett Teaching Excellence Award.  
  • Drs. David Mott and Fiona Hollis, Kristy Weishhans, and Jeff Twiss received a 2021 ASPIRE II: Integration award from the Office of the VP for Research. 
  • Drs Norma Frizzell, Sophia Lizarraga, and Michael Shtutman also received a 2021 ASPIRE II: Integration award from the Office of the VP for Research.
  • Drs. David Mott, Ken Walsh, Aaron Jasnow, Norma Frizzell, James Fadel, Claudia Grillo, and Sujit Pujhari all received 2021 ASPIRE I awards from the Office of the VP for Research.
  • Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Snezana Milosavljevic (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor) received a 2021 ASPIRE award to support her work.
  • Dr. Sujit Pujhari, PPN's Viral Vector Core Director, received an NIH R21 grant for studies on vector-borne viruses. 
  • Dr. Joseph McQuail received the inaugural Early Faculty Travel Award from the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS).
  • Dr. Cora Smiley (Post-doctoral fellow) joined the PPN department as a member of Dr. Susan Wood's lab. 
  • Dr. Ana Pocivavsek was elected as an Associate Member in the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP).
  • Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Sarah Tryon received a grant from the Dana Foundation  entitled: “Introducing Foundations of Neuroscience to South Carolina High School Students through ‘neuroSC’ and the Inaugural South Carolina Brain Bee.”  
  • Dr. Claudia Grillo received the "Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Award" from Dean Hall.
  • Dr. Sujit Pujhari  arrived in our department to take on the role of the Director of the Viral Vector Core Center.
  • The Nurse Anesthesia Program was approved to transition to a doctoral program in 2021.
  • Dr. Joseph McQuail received a KO1 award from the NOA to study 'Epigenetic mechanisms of stress and age-related cognitive decline'.
  • Dr.'s Fiona Hollis, David Mott, and Jessica Klusek were awarded a USCAND Pilot Grant to study the role of the amygdala in Fragile X Syndrome.
  • Dr. Kevin Le Blanc received an NRSA traineeship to support students in the Nurse Anesthesia program.
  • Fiona Hollis was approved for funding of a VISN 7 Research Development proposal on mitochondrial function in Gulf War Illness.
  • PPN is proud to have received a donation in memory of Dorothy 'Dot' Bedenbaugh.  This gift will be used to support our graduate students as they travel to present their research.
  • Dr. Britt Wilson was chosen as MI Teacher of the year.  Congratulations Britt!
  • Dr's Fiona Hollis, Joseph McQuail, and Ana Pocivavsek all received 2020 ASPIRE I awards from the Office of the VP for Research.
  • Post-doctoral fellow Sarah Tryon (Marlene Wilson mentor) received a 2020 ASPIRE award to support her work on 'Individual Differences in Fear Extinction'
  • Dr. Norma Frizzell received a new R56 grant from NIH-NINDS to support her work in "Anaplerotic Therapy for Mitochondrial Complex I Deficiency"
  • Dr. Susan Wood was honored with the 2020 Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award
  • Dr. Claudia Grillo has been awarded a grant from NSF to sponsor student travel awards to the Stress Biology Workshop (now scheduled for 2022)
  • Dr. Ken Walsh received a 30-year state service award.
  • Dr. Norma Frizzell received the Distinguished Research Service Award in recognition of her outstanding commitment to USCs internal research programs
  • Dr. Susan Wood was named the winner of the JH Woods Early Career Award in Behavioral Pharmacology by the ASPET Division for Behavioral Pharmacology.
  • Dr. Kevin LeBlanc and the rest of the Nurse Anesthesia team for received the maximum 10 year accreditation for the Masters in Nurse Anesthesia Program
  • Dr. Alex Mcdonald was honored with the Dean's Sustained School of Medicine Service award for over 40 years of service, research and teaching.
  • Catherine Rhea (MBS, CRNA) received the 2019 Distinguished Master's Alumni Award
  • Dr. Britt Wilson received the Arthur C. Guyton educator of the year award from the American Physiological Society.
  • Dr. Larry Reagan was elected into the Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society.
  • Alexia Crockett (Dr. Fiona Hollis, mentor) applied for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Out of 13,000 that applied, Alexia was one of the 1413 applicants who received a honorable mention.  Congratulations Alexia!
  • Erin Gorman-Sandler (Dr. Fiona Hollis, mentor) received a 500 Euro Travel Award to attend the FENS meeting in Paris this summer.  This was very competitive with only 4 Ph.D. awards being given out.  
  • Ronald Smithwick, (Dr. Sujit Pujhari, mentor), successfully defended his MS Biomedical Science Thesis entitled: Engineering and optimization of an AAV-based viral vector to limit the in-vitro expression of SARS-CoV-2 spike =-protein" (March 17, 2022)
  • Katy Pilarzyk, Ph.D. (Dr. Michy Kelly, mentor), successfully defended her dissertation entitled: The Role of PDE11A4 Signaling and Compartmentalization in Social Behavior" (March 16, 2022)
  • PPN graduate students once again won the W. Morgan Newton Graduate Research Symposium.  The2022 Winner of the Symposium was Hannah Burzynski.  Congratulations to Hannah and her mentor Dr. Larry Reagan.  Plus, Honorable Mentions went to Erin Gorman and her mentor Dr. Fiona Hollis and Sierra McDonald (Dr. Angela Murphy, mentor) from PMI.  (March 2022)
  • Two PPN graduate students were selected for SPARC awards to support their research.  Congratulations to Samantha Bouknight (Dr. Wood mentor) and Devin Kellis (Dr. Fadel and Dr. M. Wilson mentors) for receiving these highly competitive awards.
  • New Magellan Awards for undergraduate research were received by:  Andrei Robu (Dr. Claudia Grillo mentor): "Identification of Hypothalamic Neurons that are Activated by Serotonin and Participate in the Control of Food Intake", Drew Buoniconti (Dr. Fiona Hollis mentor): "Establishing the signature of neural activation following social preference in Fmr1 mutant mice", Sarisha Menon (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor): "Sleep-Wake Behavior in Mice: Role of Kynurenic Acid and Kynurenine 3-Monooxygenase", Karinne Cobb (Dr. Joe McQuail mentor): "Nutritional Interventions for Female Brain Aging and Memory",  and Melanie Tieman (Dr. Joe McQuail mentor): "Targeting NMDA Receptor Co-Activators to Rescue Memory in Normal Aging".
  • Richard McCain, Ph.D. (Dr. Norma Frizzell, mentor), successfully defended his dissertation entitled: Impaired Metabolic Flexibility in a Mouse Model of Leigh Syndrome".
  • Tyler Anderson-Sieg, Ph.D. (Drs. David Mott and Alex McDonald, mentor), successfully defended his dissertation entitled : “Impact of Acetylcholine on Internal Pathways to Basal Amygdala Pyramidal Neurons"
  • Joshua Bratsch-Prince, Ph.D. (Dr. David Mott, mentor), successfully defended his dissertation entitled : “Impact of Acetylcholine on Amygdala Network Oscillations”
  • Anna Marie Buchanan (Dr. Parastoo Hashemi, mentor), successfully defended her dissertation entitled: “Impaired Metabolic Flexibility in a Mouse Model of Leigh Syndrome”  
  • Graduate students, Hannah Burzynski (Dr. Larry Reagan mentor) and Nicholas Maxwell (Dr. Claudia Grillo mentor) and  undergraduate students, Breanna Robertson, (Dr. Fiona Hollis mentor) and Sarah Mott (Dr. Susan Wood mentor) received Society for Neuroscience 2021 Trainee Professional Development Awards (TPDA). 
  • Jeffrey Boswell, former Nurse Anesthesia Student, received  the Distinguished Master's Alumni Award.
  • Tyler Anderson-Sieg (David Mott mentor) successfully defended his doctoral dissertation
  • Katherine Rentschler and Courtney Wright (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor) co-authored an article 'Time of Day-Dependent Alterations in Hippocampal Kynurenic Acid, Glutamate, and GABA in Adult Rats Exposed to Elevated Kynurenic Acid During Neurodevelopment' for frontiers in Psychiatry. 
  • Sophia Tavakol (Dr. Aaron Jasnow lab) received the SURF and Exploration grant from the SC Honor College.  Jarrett Turner (Dr. Marlene Wilson lab) also received the SURF and Exploration grant
  • Undergraduate researcher Andrei Robu (Dr. Claudia Grillo lab) received the SURF and Exploration grant from the SC Honor College to support his work.   
  • Undergraduate researchers Karinne Cobb, Melanie Tieman and Meaghan O'Connor (from the lab of Dr. Joe McQuail) were recipients of the SURF and Exploration grant from the SC Honor College
  • Sarah Mott (Dr. Susan Wood lab) received 1st place in the Undergraduate Student poster competition at the recent American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) meeting
  • Lee Augenblick (Dr. Susan Wood lab) received 2nd place in the Division of Neuropharmacology poster competition at the recent American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) meeting.

PPN Award Winners at DISCOVER USC 2021

Two Graduate Student Poster Award Winners:

  • Joshua Bratsch-Prince, (Dr. David Mott mentor), Winner, session B, "Modulation of amygdala theta oscillations by the basal forebrain cholinergic system"
  • Katherine Rentschler, (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor), Winner, session C, "The Kynurenic Acid Synthesis Inhibitor PF-04859989 Prevents Acute Kynurenine-Induced Sleep Disturbances in Rats"

Two First Place Postdoctoral Scholar Awards:

  • Dr. Sarah Tryon (Dr. Marlene Wilson mentor) 1st Place, Poster session A,  "The role of the cholinergic system in individual differences in fear extinction"
  • Dr. Snezana Milosavljevic (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor), 1st place, Poster session B,  "Sex differences in anxiety-like and anhedonic behavior of adult rats exposed to elevated kynurenic acid during neurodevelopment" 

Medical Scholar Award - Third place:  

  • Nicholas Brandt (Dr. Susan Wood mentor), "The Effects of Pyridostigmine Bromide and Stress on Cardiovascular Function: An Examination of Gulf War Illness" (Basic Medical Sciences and Therapeutic Effectiveness/Efficiency session).

Five Undergraduate Awards:

  • Grant  Morgan (Dr. Susan Wood mentor): "Understanding Cardiovascular Dysfunction in Gulf War Illness"
  • Sarah Mott (Dr. Susan Wood mentor): "Estradiol-Specific Neural Regulation of Social Stress Susceptibility"
  • Meaghan O'Connor (Dr. Joseph McQuail mentor)"Similar Working Memory and Stress Response in Male and Female Rats"
  • Emma Sandago (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor):  "Sex Dependent Cognitive Impairments in Kynurenine 3-monooxygenase Deficient Mice: Relevance to Schizophrenia"
  • Courtney Wright (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor):  "Prenatal Kynurenine Elevation in Rats Elicits Sex-Dependent Changes in Hippocampal Kynurenic Acid, Glutamate, and GABA during Adulthood: Implications for Psychotic Disorders"

  • Brittany Eberl (Drs. Claudia Grillo, Larry Reagan mentors) received a Magellan Scholar Award entitled: “Non-biased Stereological Analysis of Hippocampal Neuron Morphology in an Animal Model of Gulf War Illness"
  • Emma Sandago (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek, mentor) received a Magellan Scholar Award entitled: “Increased Kynurenic Acid and Cognitive Impairments in Adult Mice” .  She also received a SURF award from the SC Honors College.
  • Sarah Mott (Dr. Susan Wood mentor), received a Magellan Scholar Award and a Magellan Mini-grant award entitled “The Effect of Estrogen on Serotonergic Response to Social Stress in Female Rats”
  • Shoba Swaminathan (Dr. Norma Frizzell mentor) received a Magellan Scholar Award entitled : re-Identifying Protein Targets of Itaconate Modification”.
  • Andrei Robu (Dr. Claudia Grillo, Nick Maxwell mentors) received a Magellan Mini-grant entitled “Identification of hypothalamic neurons that are activated by serotonin and participate in the control of food intake”.
  • Olivia Moran (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek mentor) received a SURF award from SC Honors College.
  • PPN graduate students once again sweep the awards at the W. Morgan Newton Graduate Research Symposium.  The2021 Winner of the Symposium is Katy Pilarzyk.  A big congrats to Katy and her mentor Dr. Michy Kelly.  Plus, an Honorable Mention went to Nick Maxwell and his mentor Dr. Claudia Grillo.  Excellent job to everyone that presented!!!   Way to go Katy and Nick!
  • Several students in Susan Wood's received an ASPET General Travel Award to present at the ASPET Annual Experimental Biology Meeting.  Sarah Mott and Lee Augenblick received Undergraduate travel awards, Brittany Pope received a Graduate travel award and Gustavo Martinez Muniz (former graduate student) received a Minority student travel award.
  • Jennifer Erichsen (Drs. Fadel/Reagan lab) has been named a 2021 Breakthrough Graduate Scholar.
  • Samantha Bouknight (Dr. Susan Wood mentor) and Joshua Bratsch-Prince (Dr. David Mott mentor) received a 2020 Society for Neuroscience Trainee Professional Development Award as part of the SfN Global Connectome virtual Conference. 
  • Three PPN graduate students were selected for SPARC awards to support their research.  Congratulations to Hannah Burzynski (Dr. Reagan lab), Brittany Pope (Dr. Wood lab) and Katherine Rentschler (Dr. Pocivavsek lab) for receiving these highly competitive awards.
  • Four Undergraduate students working in PPN received Magellan awards to support their research.  Congratulations to Gabriella "Gabby" Gee (Drs. Sarah Tryon, Marlene Wilson mentors) who received the Magellan Scholarship Award and the Magellan Capstone Apprentice Award, Maria Bykalo (Dr. Larry Reagan mentor) received the Magellan Scholarship Award, Breanna Robertson (Dr. Fiona Hollis mentor) received the Magellan Capstone Apprentice award and a Mini-grant, and Shoba Swaminathan (Dr. Norma Frizzell mentor) and received the Magellan Capstone Apprentice award and a Mini-grant
  • Undergraduate researchers Emma Sandago (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek lab), Sarisha Menon (Dr. Ana Pocivavsek lab), Grace Regnier (Dr. Joe McQuail lab), and Meaghan O'Connor (Dr. Joe McQuail lab) received SURF and Exploration grants from the SC Honor College to support their work.
  • Jennifer Erichson (Drs. Fadel/Reagan labs) has been awarded a prestigious F31 award from the NIH to support her research on the cognitive effects of intranasal insulin.
  • Nicholas Maxwell (Dr. Grillo Lab) received a grant from SC-INBRE to support his training in bioinformatics.

Core Courses

  • Medical Physiology (PHPH D621) - M1 medical students.  Course director Britt Wilson
  • Medical Neuroscience (PHPH D603) - M1 medical students.  Course director Jim Fadel
  • Medical Pharmacology (PHPH D631) - M2 medical students.  Course director Larry Reagan
  • Biomedical Pharmacology (PHPH 705) - 6 credit hour, fall semester.  Basic principles of drug action for students in health professions.  Course director Ken Walsh
  • Physiology for the Health Sciences (PHPH 701) - 6 credit hours, spring semester.  Basic principles of human physiology.  Course director Ken Walsh
  • Fundamental Neuroscience I (PHPH 750) - 4 credit hours, fall semester.  Foundations of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.  Includes hands-on lab experience.  Course director TBD
  • Fundamental Neuroscience II (PHPH 751) - 4 credit hours, spring semester.  Provides expanded instruction into neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders with a focus on current research.  Course director David Mott
  • Neuroscience (PHPH 740) - 4 credit hours, fall semester.  Covers developmental and cellular neurobiology from a research perspective.  Course director David Mott
  • Neuroscience Seminar (PHPH 742) - 1 credit hour, both spring and fall semesters.  Topics in professional development for scientists.  Course directors vary.  For information, contact David Mott

Biomedical Sciences: Neuroscience Concentration

The Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience also supports a neuroscience concentration for Biomedical Science Ph.D. students.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.