Skip to main content

Annabelle M. Belcher, PhD

Academic Title:

Assistant Professor

Primary Appointment:



110 S. Paca Street, 4N-101

Phone (Primary):




Education and Training

  • Loyola University New Orleans, BA, Psychology
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH-IRP/NIH), Laboratory of Neuropsychology (mentor: Mortimer Mishkin), Pre-Doctoral IRTA
  • University of California, Irvine, PhD, Neurobiology & Behavior (mentor: John F. Marshall)
  • University of California, Santa Barbara, MacArthur Foundation Law & Neuroscience Project Post-Doctoral Fellow (mentors: Michael Gazzaniga and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA-IRP/NIH), Neuroimaging Research Branch (mentors: Elliot A. Stein and Afonso C. Silva), Post-Doctoral IRTA


My training has been focused on understanding the neurobiology (neurotransmitters, receptors and circuits) and behavioral repercussions (particularly, learning and memory) of addiction using preclinical models of exposure to drugs of abuse. A neuroimaging researcher, I have expertise in the acquisition and analysis of neuroimaging resting-state fMRI data in animal models of human neuropsychiatric disorders. Currently, I am applying this breadth of knowledge in the context of a clinical trial designed to investigate the role of expectancy and pharmacological conditioning in individuals diagnosed with opioid use disorder. 

Research/Clinical Keywords

Opioid Use Disorders, Learning and Memory, Substance Use Disorders, Methadone Maintenance Treatment, Individual Differences, Susceptibility and Resilience to SUD

Highlighted Publications

My research interests have largely focused on the neural mechanisms of learning and memory, and the effects of perturbations thereof, in preclinical models of substance use disorder. My pre-doctoral thesis explored the precise role of the hippocampal formation in a form of recognition memory that requires organisms to make object-in-place associations, work which advanced our understanding of the precise contribution of this important limbic structure to a form of spatial memory (work conducted in nonhuman primates (macaca mulatta). My doctoral thesis work built upon this hippocampal-based memory framework to elucidate the effects of neurotoxic (“binge”) methamphetamine exposure on various forms of memory, including tasks of spatial memory, recognition memory and attention-set shifting. This second body of work was conducted in rodents, and delineated a mechanistic understanding of how drugs of abuse have direct impacts on the neurotransmitter systems in the limbic and cortical brain areas responsible for memory formation.

  • Belcher AM, Harrington RA, Malkova L and Mishkin M (2006). Effects of hippocampal lesions on monkeys’ ability to learn large sets of object-place associations. Hippocampus 16:361-367.
  • Belcher AM, O’Dell SJ and Marshall JF (2005). Impaired object recognition memory following methamphetamine, but not p-chloroamphetamine- or d-amphetamine-induced neurotoxicity. Neuropsychopharmacology 30:2026-2034. 
  • Belcher AM, Feinstein EM, O’Dell SJ and Marshall JF (2008). Methamphetamine influences on recognition memory: comparison of escalating and single-day dosing regimens. Neuropsychopharmacology 33:1453-1463.
  • Belcher AM, O’Dell SJ, Marshall JF (2009). Long-term changes in dopamine-stimulated gene expression after single-day methamphetamine exposure. Synapse 63:403-412.

More recent work has focused on understanding the principle brain networks and personality traits that confer susceptibility to (and resilience against) developing substance use disorders. My postdoctoral work (again conducted in nonhuman primates, common marmosets [callithrix callithrix]) developed a platform on which to conduct these important preclinical investigations: that of an unanesthetized neuroimaging preparation for the study of resting-state fMRI-based brain network connectivity. In tandem with these preclinical studies, I am first-author on several pieces of writing attempting to distill the most important genetic and environmental factors that lead to propensity to, and increased risk for, substance use and abuse.

  • Belcher AM, Yen CC, Stepp H, Lu H, Mackel J, Yang Y, Silva A, Stein EA (2013) Large-scale brain networks in awake, truly resting marmoset monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience 33: 16796-16804. *Presented at the NIDA Director’s Hot Science Meeting on January 29, 2014, and highlighted on the NIDA-IRP website as the “Paper of the Month” 3/2014.
  • Belcher AM, Volkow ND, Moeller FG and Ferre S (2014). Personality traits and vulnerability or resilience to substance use disorders. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18(4): 163-218.
  • Belcher AM, Lejuez CW, Moeller FG, Volkow ND and Ferre S (in press). Choice Impulsivity, a drug-modifiable personality trait. In: Pickard and Ahmed (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Science of Addiction.
  • Belcher AM, Yen C-C, Notardonato L, Ross TJ, Volkow ND, Yang Y, Stein EA, Silva A and Tomasi D (2016). Functional connectivity hubs and networks in the awake marmoset brain. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 10:1-9.

Finally, in my newly-developed IRB-approved human research program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, I am Principal Investigator on a clinical trial designed to investigate whether placebo effects can be harnessed to augment treatment outcomes in patients enrolled in medication-assisted (methadone) treatment for Opioid Use Disorder. Together with my colleagues at the UM School of Nursing (Luana COlloca) and NIH, I have recently submitted a review on the topic of modulation of expectation in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, including addiction.

  • Belcher AM, Ferre S, Martinez PE, Colloca L (2017). Role of Placebo Effects in Pain and Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2017.06.003. [Epub ahead of print]

Additional Publication Citations

A complete list of all published work can be found in MYBibliography:

Awards and Affiliations


1999-  Member, Society for Neuroscience
2002, 2003, 2004 UCI Biological Sciences Travel Award Fellowship
2003                UCI Biological Sciences Travel Award Fellowship
2003-2004 Co-Organizer, Annual CNLM Neuroscience Symposium, UCI
2004 UCI Biological Sciences Travel Award Fellowship
2004-2006 Steering Committee, NSF ADVANCE Biomedical Research Trainee Network, UCI
2005-2009 Member, Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society
2007 UCI Minority Biomedical Research Support Program Awardee
2008  American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Policy Fellowship
2008- Member, Professional Women’s Nexus
2011  NIDA Director’s Award of Merit
2009-2011  NIDA Representative, FelCom Post-Doctoral IRTA Committee, NIH
2013  NIDA FARE Award for Research Excellence



Grants and Contracts

2017-2018                    (Belcher, PI: 0%)

Title: “Open-label dose-extending placebos as an adjunct to methadone treatment: A pilot study”

The Foundation for the Science of the Therapeutic Experience (F-STE)

Total costs: $ 26,362.32


2017-2020                   (Belcher, Co-I: 0%)

Title: “Novel Therapies to Reduce Opioid Use”

Project Directors: Luana Colloca, Eric Wish, Annabelle Belcher

MPowering the State: Strategic Partnership funds

Total costs: $289,241

Community Service

2002                Guest lecturer, “Empowering the Community” Conference, University of California, Irvine

2003-2008       Annual Lecturer, Brain Awareness Week, University of California, Irvine

2004                Lecturer, “The Danger of Trying Drugs Just Once”-- Presentation given to juvenile offenders at Joplin Youth Center, a non-secure residential treatment center for boys in Orange County, CA

2008, 2009       Referee, SDGE/Graduate Women in Science Fellowship

2009                Panel Representative, Community College Day, NIH, Bethesda, MD

2011                Lecturer, “Science for Non-Scientists” series, NIDA, Baltimore, MD

2012                Career Day presentation, Patterson Park Public Charter School, Baltimore, MD

2013                Scientist demonstrator, “Take Your Kid to Work Day” at NIDA-IRP

2015                Judge for the annual Greater Baltimore Society for Neuroscience Meeting

2017                Mentor to a Baltimore city middle school-aged child, Paul’s Place 

Teaching service

2000-2001       Graduate Teaching Assistant, Neurobiology (BIO110L), University of California, Irvine

2001-2003       Course Instructor, Neurobiology lecture/lab course (BIO113L), University of California, Irvine

2004-2005       Research Mentor for undergraduate neurobiology major, UC Irvine Undergraduate Research Program

2008                Course Instructor, COSMOS, COSMOS-University of California, Irvine

2009                Course Instructor, Law and Neuroscience (Psychology 594LN), University of California, Santa Barbara

2010-2012       Research Mentor for the NIDA Summer Student Programs

2011-2012       Course Instructor, Introduction to Addiction Science, Neuroimaging Research Branch, NIDA-IRP

2011-2014       Research Mentor, NIDA post-baccalaureate IRTA Fellow

2016                GPLS 775 “The Interface of Pain, Addiction and Affect” Course Lecturer