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Melanie M. Pina, PhD

Academic Title:

Assistant Professor

Primary Appointment:



685 W. Baltimore Street, HSFI 280K


Dr. Pina received her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from Oregon Health & Science University in 2016. Her graduate research focused on mapping the neurocircuitry involved in cue-induced drug seeking behavior. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her postdoctoral work, she identified several key cortical neuromodulatory systems that support excessive alcohol use and related behavioral pathologies. Dr. Pina joined the University of Maryland School of Medicine as Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology in 2022.

Dr. Pina's research focuses on identifying the distinct neural circuits and signaling mechanisms that regulate excessive drug use and determining how plasticity within these systems can contribute to comorbid neuropsychiatric conditions. Her lab integrates behavioral models with electrophysiological, biochemical, and genetic approaches to identify the molecular and cellular adaptations that occur in the brain following repeated exposure to alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Dr. Pina is especially interested in how disrupted serotonin signaling can drive aggression and contribute to the development of anxiety and depression-like behavior.

Research/Clinical Keywords

substance use disorder, aggression, mood, serotonin, neural circuits, electrophysiology, synaptic plasticity, biosensors

Highlighted Publications

  • Pina MM, Pati D, Neira S, Taxier LR, Stanhope CM, Mahoney AA, D’Ambrosio S, Kash TL, & Navarro M. (2023) Insula dynorphin and kappa opioid receptor systems regulate alcohol drinking in a sex-specific manner in mice. In press, Journal of Neuroscience; bioRxiv 2021.11.09.467893
  • Flanigan ME, Hon OJ, D'Ambrosio S, Boyt KM, Hassanein L, Castle M, Haun HL, Pina MM, & Kash TL (2023). Subcortical serotonin 5HT2c receptor-containing neurons sex-specifically regulate binge-like alcohol consumption, social, and arousal behaviors in mice. Nature Communications, Mar 31;14(1):1800. PMID: 37002196
  • Yu W, Pati D, Pina MM, Schmidt KT, Boyt KM, Hunker AC, Zweifel LS, McElligott ZA, Kash TL. (2021) Periaqueductal gray/dorsal raphe dopamine neurons contribute to sex differences in pain-related behaviors. Neuron, 109(8), 1365-1380. PMID: 33740416
  • Bloodgood DW, Pati D, Pina MM, Neira S, Hardaway JA, Desai S, Boyt KM, Palmiter RD, & Kash TL (2021). Kappa Opioid Receptor and Dynorphin Signaling in the Central Amygdala Regulates Alcohol Intake. Molecular Psychiatry, 26, 2187–2199. PMID: 32099099
  • Pina MM, Pati D, Hwa LS, Wu SY, Mahoney AA, Omenyi CG, Navarro M, & Kash TL. (2020). The kappa opioid receptor modulates GABA neuron excitability and synaptic transmission in midbrain projections from the insular cortex. Neuropharmacology, 165:107831 PMID: 31870854
  • Pati D, Pina MM, & Kash TL (2019) Ethanol-induced conditioned place preference and aversion differentially alter plasticity in the bed nucleus of stria terminalis. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(11), 1843-1854. PMID: 30795004
  • Pina MM & Cunningham CL (2017). Ethanol-seeking behavior is expressed directly through an extended amygdala to midbrain neural circuit.* Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 137, 83-91. PMID: 27866960
  • Pina MM & Cunningham CL (2016). Involvement of ventral tegmental area ionotropic glutamate receptors in the expression of ethanol conditioned place preference. Behavioral Brain Research, 313, 23–29. PMID: 27378337
  • Pina MM, Young EA, Ryabinin AE, & Cunningham CL (2015). The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis regulates ethanol-seeking behavior in mice. Neuropharmacology, 99, 627–638. PMID: 26302652
  • Pina MM & Cunningham CL (2014). Effects of the novel cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist PF 514273 on the acquisition and expression of ethanol conditioned place preference. Alcohol, 48(5), 427–431. PMID: 24954022
  • Pina MM & Cunningham CL (2014). Effects of dopamine receptor antagonists on the acquisition of ethanol-induced conditioned place preference in mice. Psychopharmacology, 231(3), 459–468. PMID: 24005528

Awards and Affiliations

2021            Travel Award, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP)

2020            Pathway to Independence Award, NIH/NIAAA 

2019            Postdoctoral Scholar Award for Excellence in Mentoring, UNC Office of Undergraduate Research

2019            Travel Award, NIH/NIAAA Alcoholism and Stress: A Framework for Future Research Studies

2018             Individual Postdoctoral National Research Service Award, NIH/NIAAA

2016            Best Paper Award, OHSU Department of Behavioral Neuroscience

2016            John A. Resko Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award, OHSU School of Medicine

2015            Enoch Gordis Research Recognition Award, Research Society on Alcoholism

2014            Graduate Research Grant, Psi Chi Honor Society

2014            Neurobiology of Disease Fellowship, OHSU Brain Institute

2014            Dissertation Research Award, American Psychological Association

2014            N.L. Tartar Trust Fellowsh, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)

2013            Vertex Scholar Award, Vertex Pharmaceuticals

2010-2013    Scholar Award, ARCS Foundation

Grants and Contracts

K99/R00 AA028298 - Pathway to Independence Award (7/1/20-6/30/25; Role: PI)


Alcohol-induced alterations in orbitofrontal cortex serotonin signaling

Links of Interest