The McClung Lab

Department of Psychiatry

Translational Neuroscience Program

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center


Darius Becker-Krail

Graduate Student

B.S. Biology / College of Charleston


What I do in the Lab:

I am involved in projects using a range of molecular techniques and behavioral assays to investigate the differential regulation of reward by circadian proteins CLOCK and NPAS2, in a mouse model.


What I do out of the Lab:

In my free time, I really enjoy playing disc golf, listening to music, playing video games, trying new restaurants/breweries, or just exploring the city.


My Research Project:

My project investigates how cocaine's effects on cellular metabolic state may feed into the circadian molecular clock to modulate reward-related behavior. More specifically, I am interested in the circadian protein NPAS2 and how its ability to act as a REDOX sensor may contribute to its role in reward regulation.


Mark Brown

Lab Manager

B.S. Microbiology / University of Pittsburgh


What I do in the Lab:

I'm responsible for bridging the gap between the science experiments, spending within the grant budgets, and making sure we follow DLAR and IACUC regulations. I am also responsible for ordering supplies, keeping things organized, training, managing controlled substance, and genotyping and organizing the mice used in our experiments. I am also involved with IACUC modifications and getting new procedures or viruses approved for use in lab.  


What I do out of the Lab:

I got involved in politics in the spring of 2015, and after a disastrous 2016 election cycle, I am currently the vice-chair of the Allegheny County Green Party. Other interests involve online gaming and frequent activity in social media (for both political and scientific purposes). I also go in cycles with fitness and the gym.


My Research Project:

I am not involved in research currently. I am here to make sure the research of our lab members doesn't stop due to a lack of mice, lack of reagents, overspending our budget, nor any violations of federal law. That is a full-time project in itself!


Puja Parekh

Graduate Student Researcher

B.S. / College of William and Mary


What I do in the Lab:

In the lab I use slice electrophysiology, molecular biology, viral mediated techniques and mouse behavioral assays to understand the role of circadian genes and protiens in synaptic plasticity within the limbic system and the development of mood and substance abuse disorders.


What I do out of the Lab:

Outside of the lab I like to rock climb, travel, play frisbee, cook and read news magazines.


My Research Project:

My research project has focused on characterizing differences in reward and mood regulation by two core homologous circadian proteins with differential expression in mesolimbic brain regions. I have found that disruption of these two proteins, CLOCK and NPAS2, has opposing effects on excitatory neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens, a critical site for motivated behaviors. I aim to further investigate the mechanisms of action of these proteins in a cell-type specific manner.


Lauren DePoy

Post-Doctoral Associate

B.S. / Gettysburg College; PhD / Emory University


What I do in the Lab:

Right now my work mostly involves operant conditioning, including intravenous self-administration after placing indwelling jugular catheters. In the future, my work will involve stereotaxic surgeries and more molecular techniques.


What I do out of the Lab:

Mostly, I spend time with my husband and our dog. My main hobbies include hiking/camping, watching hockey, and playing strategy card and board games.


My Research Project:

Currently I am investigating the role of mutations in circadian genes on cocaine self-administration and identifying the molecular changes that underlie these behaviors.



Mariah Hildebrand

Research Associate/Lab Tech

B.S. Neuroscience / Allegheny College


What I do in the lab:

Operant conditioning, monitoring sleep/circadian rhythms, behavioral assays, assisting other lab members with their projects, brain bank, breeding various strains of mice for experiments, genotyping, qPCR, keep the lab organized, order supplies, inventory management


What I do out of the lab:

Play basketball and softball, go to Pens and Pirates ganes, travel, work out, and cuddle with my dogs. I also volunteer at Children's Hospital.


My Research Project:

I currently have two projects. I am designing a reward/punishment expectancy behavioral task to measure brain regions involved in impulsive-sensation seeking in a rodent model of bipolar mania. In addition, I am investigating the impact of sleep and circadian rhythms on the vulnerability for substance abuse in adolescent rats.


Gabrielle (Gabbie) Kaplan

CNUP Graduate Student

B.S. Biological Sciences / North Carolina State University


What I do in the Lab:

I use molecular techniques (Western Blotting, co-immunoprecipitation, qPCR) with both in vitro and mouse brain tissue to look at the changes in expression and function of mitochondrial and metabolic signaling pathways.


What I do out of the Lab:

I'm a self-proclaimed Netflix addict. I also love going to art and food festivals, cooking and baking, and attending performances in the cultural district.


My Research Project:

I'm currently looking into mitochondrial complex 1 dysfunction and how its intertwined connections with circadian and metabolic machinery contribute to the molecular mechanism of bipolar disorder.



Chelsea Vadnie

Post-Doctoral Associate

B.A. Neuroscience / Kenyon College; PhD Neurobiology of Disease / Mayo Graduate School


What I do in the lab:

Stereotaxoc surgeries, optogenetics, rodent behavioral assays (mood-like behaviors and circadian activity), qPCR, and immunohistochemistry


What I do outside of the Lab:

Gardening, exploring Pittsburgh with my husband, and watching Penguins games


My Research project:

My main project is centered on determining the role of the suprachiasmatic nucleus in regulating mood-like behaviors by using optogenetic tools. In addition, I am working on collaborative projects focused on understanding the behavioral effects of adolescent circadian rhythm disruptions and of pharmacological inhibition of histone deacetylases.



Lauren Eberhardt

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Neuroscience and Psychology / University of Pittsburgh


What I do in the Lab:

As an undergraduate lab assistant, I have the opportunity to contribute to the study of circadian rhythms in mice, specifically the phase advances and delays, and stimulation of the SCN in order to determine its relationship to anxiety and depression disorders. I assist with the behavioral analysis as well as the probe and viral implatation surgeries prior to stimulation.


What I do out of the Lab:

Outside of the lab, I am involved with the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Global Medical Brigades, the University Honors College Peer Mentor program, and the Reformed University Fellowship. I also teach as an undergraduate recitation instructor for general chemistry and work part-time for The Princeton Review as a Campus Representative.



Natalie Fitzgerald

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Neuroscience and Biology / University of Pittsburgh


What I do in the Lab:

I help out around the lab with other projects, mostly on the cryostat and scoring videos.


What I do out of the Lab:

I am a UTA for Intro to Neuroscience and I volunteer at Children's Hospital.


My Research Project:

I am assisting in designing a behavioral assay to measure brain regions involved in impulsive-sensation seeking in a rodent model of bipolar mania.



Poornima Sundaravelu

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Neuroscience / University of Pittsburgh


What I do in lab:

In lab, I mainly chitchat with Puja and Darius but I do help out with surgeries and behavioral tests.


What I do out of lab:

Apart from lab, I'm a full time student but enjoy trying out new restaurants, reading, watching comedy specials and going shopping!


My research project:

My thesis: Role of GluA1 in Nucleus Accumbens on Manic-like behavior of Clock19 mice



Jennifer Burns

Graduate Student

B.S. Physiology / Seattle Pacific University


What I do in lab:

I use fluorescent microscopy to look at oxidative stress levels and perineuronal nets


What I do out of lab:

I enjoy listening to music and going on walks in Frick Park. Since I am new to Pittsburgh, I also am trying to explore more of the city.


My research project:

My current project is looking at how disruptions to the molecular clock affect oxidative stress and the maturation of parvalbumin interneurons.