Cowan Laboratory Research Team

Cowan lab team members

Director

Christopher Cowan

Christopher Cowan, Ph.D.

Professor, Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry
William E. Murray SmartState Endowed Chair of Excellence in Neuroscience
Chair, Department of Neuroscience
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 410B
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-2935

Biography: Dr. Cowan is Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience and the William E. Murray SmartState Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina. Before moving his lab to MUSC in 2016, Dr. Cowan was an Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital where he served as the Director of the Integrative Neurobiology Laboratory from 2012-2016, and he was an Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School from 2005-2012. Dr. Cowan earned his bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University (CT) and his Ph.D. from Baylor College of Medicine (TX). He completed his postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital in the area of molecular neurobiology.

Lab Members

Rachel Penrod-Martin

Rachel Penrod-Martin, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 416C
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-8262

Degree(s): B.S./B.A. in Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2005, Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2012.

Biography: Rachel is interested in studying mechanisms of experience-dependent plasticity in neurons. Her doctoral work focused on the development and characterization of a culture system designed to support the development of in vivo-like medium spiny neurons. This system can be used to investigate the molecular mechanisms of MSN development and plasticity. At MUSC, Rachel is working to study epigenetic mechanisms in drug addiction using a combination of molecular, cell biological, and behavioral approaches.

Dr. Ethan Anderson

Ethan Anderson, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): B.S. in Psychology, University of Florida, 2008; Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Florida, 2012

Biography: Ethan studies the maladaptive plastic effects of drugs of abuse. As a graduate student he studied morphine dependence and associated changes in NMDA receptors (GluNs), and as a postdoc he examined the role of BDNF-TrkB-PLC signaling in cocaine self-administration behaviors. He is currently studying the cell-specific effects of HDAC5 in cocaine and heroin addiction here in the Cowan Lab

Dr. Adam Harrington

Adam Harrington, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Scholar
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): B.S. in Biology, University of Louisiana Monroe; Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Alabama

Biography: Adam is interested in studying the molecular mechanisms underlying autism-spectrum disorders using the mouse model system. The Louisiana native earned his doctorate in the Caldwell lab at the University of Alabama, where he utilized the C. elegans model system to identify genetic modifiers of dopaminergic neuron degeneration and focused on the role of the lysosomal protein VPS41 as a potential therapeutic target for Parkinson's disease. As a postdoc with Dr. Christopher Cowan, Adam is using primary neuron cultures and mouse models to study the developmental requirement of the autism-associated transcription factor MEF2C in brain development, synapse regulation and autism-associated behaviors, and understand the molecular mechanisms underlying MEF2C-dependent synapse remodeling in cortical neurons.

Dr.  Ahlem Assali

Ahlem Assali, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Scholar
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie Paris France, 2014; Master Degree in Biology, Universite de Rennes 1 France, 2010

Biography: Ahlem is interested in studying neural circuit development. Her doctoral work in the Gaspar Lab concerned the cellular mechanisms involved in mouse retinal projection development focusing on the role of synaptic release and cAMP signaling. Her post-doctoral work in the lab of Dr. Cowan investigates the role of EphB1 in axon guidance/brain wiring during development (thalamo-cortical system) and its role in adult behavior requiring synaptic plasticity (hippocampus, habenula).

Dr. Sarah Barry

Sarah Barry, Ph.D.

Post Doctoral Scholar
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): B.S. in Neuroscience, Furman University; Ph.D. in Biomedical Science, Medical University of South Carolina

Biography: Sarah is interested in understanding drug-mediated neuroadaptations in addiction circuitry with a focus on prefrontal cortical subdivisions and associated afferents and efferents. For her doctoral dissertation work she studied the role of molecular and synaptic mechanisms behind the efficacy of a BDNF infusion to attenuate cocaine seeking behavior. Her work primarily focused on local phospho-protein signaling in addition circuit level manipulations using chemogenetic approaches. As a post-doc with Dr. Cowan, she is investigating the role that HDAC5 plays in the prefrontal cortex in a regional and cell-specific manner in preclinical drug abuse models.

Dr. Brandon Hughes

Brandon Hughes, M.S.

Graduate Student
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): B.S. in Biology, University of South Carolina-Beaufort, 2012; M.S. in Biotechnology, Claflin University, 2016

Biography: Brandon is interested in understanding the regulatory mechanisms of synaptic plasticity during memory consolidation and drug exposure. During his master’s thesis, he investigated the molecular effects of Zika virus and environmental mutagens on neuroblastoma cell models. As a PhD student in the Cowan lab, Brandon is using cutting-edge molecular tools and transgenic mice to understand the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal plasticity underlying learning and memory of drug reward.

Catherine Bridges 

Catherine Bridges

Graduate Student
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 409
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): B.S. in Biology from the University of Colorado Denver, 2012

Biography: Catherine is interested in studying the role of neuro-immunity in relation to neurodevelopmental disorders. As a PhD student in the Cowan Lab, Catherine is using mouse models to investigate the function of MEF2C in neurodevelopmental disorders through behavioral and molecular methods.

Evgeny Tsvetkov 

Evgeny Tsvetkov, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist II
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 408D
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-9772

Degree(s): Ph.D. in Biological Sciences, Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry

Biography: Evgeny studies cellular mechanisms of neuronal transmission at central nervous system synapses. In previous studies in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala, Evgeny described basic properties of long-term potentiation, long term depression, and established the nature of interactions between LTP and learned fear mechanisms. As an electrophysiologist in the Cowan Lab, Evgeny studies the effects of neurodevelopment genes on synaptic transmission and plasticity in multiple brain regions, including the cortex and hippocampus. He also studies the role of drug-regulated genes on synaptic plasticity in brain reward regions, including the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex.

Benjamin Zirlin

Benjamin Zirlin, MMSc

Lab Manager
173 Ashley Avenue, BSB 415
Charleston, SC 29425
843-792-8872

Degree(s): BS in Biology, University of North Texas; MMSc in Anesthesiology, Emory University

Biography: Ben received his Bachelor of Science in 2007 and Master of Medical Science in 2013. Ben has worked for the Cowan Lab since 2008 and assists with multiple facets of daily lab operation.

Profile Picture Not Available 

Daniel Wood, B.S.

MSTP Student

Degree(s): B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of South Carolina

Biography: Daniel is an MD/PhD student that joined the Cowan lab in 2019. He is interested in the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the development of drug seeking behaviors. In the Cowan lab, he studies the regulation of HDAC5 by heroin-induced redox signaling.

Jennifer Yongjoo Cho 

Jennifer (Yongjoo) Cho, B.S.

MSTP Student

Degree(s): B.S. in Biology from Temple University, 2016

Biography: Jennifer is interested in studying developmental critical periods and social behaviors in neurodevelopmental disorders. As a PhD student in the Cowan Lab, Jennifer uses molecular and behavioral tools to study the function of MEF2C in an autism mouse model.

Dalia Martinez 

Dalia Martinez, B.S.

Lab Technician

Degree(s): B.S. in Biology, The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina

Biography: Dalia received her Bachelor of Science in 2018. Dalia has worked for the Cowan Lab since 2019 and assists with multiple facets of daily experiments. As a research technician her role involves maintaining testing addiction models in mice.

Cowan Lab Volunteers

Gabriella Barry
Kelsey Glover
Kayla Blankenship
Neha Agnihotri