Tonisha Kearney-Ramos, PhD

  • Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry)


Dr. Tonisha Kearney-Ramos is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), and a Research Scientist at the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene (RFMH) at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI). Dr. Kearney-Ramos received her undergraduate pre-medical Bachelors of Science degree in Cellular & Molecular Biology at Tulane University in New Orleans (2010), and completed her graduate training as a NIDA T32 Addiction fellow at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in the Brain Imaging Research Center (Lab Director: Clint Kilts, Ph.D.; Dissertation Mentor: G. Andrew James, Ph.D.), where she received her Doctorate of Philosophy degree (2015) for her research merging network-based human functional neuroimaging and clinical neuropsychological assessment for the characterization of individual differences in the brain’s network-level encoding of working memory cognitive ability in a diverse sample of healthy adults. Following graduate school, Dr. Kearney-Ramos completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship (2018) as a NIDA T32 Addiction fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). There she received training in the Brain Stimulation Division of the Departments of Psychiatry & Neurosciences (Division Director: Mark George, M.D.) under the mentorship of Dr. Colleen Hanlon, Ph.D. Her research focused on the use of human neuroimaging to identify neural circuit markers of cognitive and behavioral dysfunction in substance use disorders (SUDs), in addition to evaluating the impact of brain stimulation on brain organization and its potential utility for treatment of SUDs.

In July 2018, Dr. Kearney-Ramos joined the research faculty at CUIMC as a NIDA Diversity Scholar in the Division on Substance Abuse. Since joining the Division, she has received new training in human behavioral pharmacology research under the mentorship of Drs. Margaret Haney, Ph.D. and Suzette Evans, Ph.D. As a member of the Cannabis Research Laboratory led by Dr. Margaret Haney, her research has focused on using a multidisciplinary approach for the development of novel treatments in SUDs, namely cannabis use disorders, such as by merging human neuroimaging and brain stimulation with laboratory and clinical paradigms that model the effects of integrated interventions on drug use behaviors, including inpatient and outpatient models of drug self-administration. Dr. Kearney-Ramos has also served as the Vice Chair of CUIMC’s Smithers Foundation Pilot Grant Program for Substance Use-Related Research since 2018 (Chair: Margaret Haney, Ph.D.), and as Co-Director of NYSPI’s new Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Core (TMSC) since she and Dr. Diana Martinez, M.D. (Core Director) initiated the program with the support of the Institute in 2019. Dr. Kearney-Ramos is currently an Associate Member of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, the longest-standing organization in the U.S. addressing substance use disorders. In addition, Dr. Kearney-Ramos is a long-time advocate of the promotion of diversity in the biomedical sciences which she has demonstrated through commitments at all stages of her career, including tutoring and mentoring underrepresented minority students as a graduate fellow, serving as a member of MUSC’s NIH-supported Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity Program Steering Committee while a postdoctoral fellow, and accepting an appointment as an Ad Hoc member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Minority Task Force since becoming junior faculty.

Academic Appointments

  • Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry)


  • Female

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BS, 2010 Cellular & Molecular Biology, Tulane University
  • PhD, 2015 University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
  • Fellowship: 2015 University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
  • Fellowship: 2018 Medical University of South Carolina


Dr. Kearney-Ramos’s research focuses on the use of advanced human neuroimaging, neuromodulation, and behavioral pharmacology techniques to develop novel, empirically derived, brain-based treatment options for individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs).

For the first 7 years of her research career, Dr. Kearney-Ramos’s academic training and research experiences involved cognitive neuroscience, human functional neuroimaging, and brain stimulation techniques. As a graduate student, she studied cognitive variance in healthy populations and developed a data-driven computational approach to model variance in neural network organization as it related to normative individual differences in cognitive processing. This work led to a first author publication in which she described the merging of fMRI and clinical neuropsychological assessment to model individual differences in the brain’s network-level functional encoding of normative working memory function in a demographically diverse sample of healthy adults, with the ultimate goal of one day better understanding how normative variability differs from or influences the development or trajectory of SUDs. In addition, she recently submitted another first-author manuscript extending upon her graduate work through validation of the neural network markers of cognitive variance in other executive functioning domains using a sensitivity and specificity construct validation approach (in revision). She was also co-author, along with her graduate colleagues, on several other publications reporting on findings from this project. Dr. Kearney-Ramos’s postdoctoral research applied similar neural circuit-based neuroimaging techniques to data collected from individuals with SUDs, including cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine users. This work focused on investigating the use of brain stimulation techniques, such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), as an emerging new treatment approach in these populations. During this time, she won 3 research presentation awards for her work, received 3 competitive travel awards, including a prestigious American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) Travel Award, published 3 first-author manuscripts and 3 scientific news articles, and co-authored 4 other published research products (2 manuscripts, 2 book chapters).

Dr. Kearney-Ramos’s current career goal is to lead a laboratory designing and testing new brain-based SUD treatments by integrating advanced human neuroimaging and brain stimulation techniques with clinically relevant inpatient and outpatient models of drug abuse. Toward that end, she joined NYSPI/CUIMC in 2018 in order to gain new expertise in human behavioral pharmacology research methods under the mentorship of the many world-renowned scientific leaders in this area at the Division on Substance Abuse, namely, Dr. Margaret Haney. Since then, she has worked to cultivate and diversify her scientific interests and expertise in order to facilitate her development of a novel, interdisciplinary program of research capable of probing the merits of brain stimulation-based SUD interventions using the contributions of multiple, unique scientific perspectives. For example, using human behavioral pharmacology principles to model treatment-induced changes in drug use patterns via laboratory drug self-administration paradigms, and validating brain stimulation target engagement by identifying and characterizing brain-based biomarkers of clinically relevant treatment responses through the use of functional neuroimaging technology.


Imaging of the Effect of Deep rTMS on Brain Activity in Chronic Cannabis Use (Foundation Grant)
Dec 2018 – Dec 2021

Neurobehavioral Mechanism of Choices to Smoke Cannabis in Cannabis Use Disorder (Federal Gov)
Jul 2018 – Jun 2020

NIH-NIDA T32 Drug Abuse Training Program (Federal Gov)
Jun 2015 – Jun 2018

NIH-NIDA T32 Translational Training in Addiction Program (Federal Gov)
Jun 2013 – Jun 2015

NIH-NIGMS Initiative for Maximizng Student Development Program (Federal Gov)
Jun 2011 – Jun 2013

Selected Publications

  • Colleen A. Hanlon, Logan T. Dowdle, Daniel H. Lench, Tonisha Kearney Ramos. (2020). Chapter 22 - Brain stimulation as an emerging treatment for addiction. In Antonio Verdejo-Garcia (Eds.), Cognition and Addiction (pp. 295-302). Elsevier Academic Press. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-815298-0.00022-8.
  • Kearney-Ramos TE, Dowdle LT, Mithoefer OJ, Devries W, George MS, Hanlon CA. (2019). State-Dependent Effects of Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Continuous Thetaburst Stimulation on Cocaine Cue Reactivity in Chronic Cocaine Users. Front. Psychiatry. 10:317. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00317. PMCID: PMC6517551.
  • Kearney-Ramos TE, Dowdle LT, Mithoefer O, Devries W, George MS, Anton R, Hanlon CA. (2018). Transdiagnostic Effects of Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation on Cue Reactivity. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. 3(7):599-609. DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2018.03.016. PMCID: PMC6641556.
  • Kearney-Ramos TE, Lench DH, Hoffman M, Correia B, Dowdle LT, Hanlon CA. (2018). Gray and white matter integrity influence TMS signal propagation: a multimodal evaluation in cocaine-dependent individuals. Scientific Reports. 8:3253. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21634-0. PMCID: PMC5818658.
  • Hanlon CA, Dowdle LT, Correia B, Mithoefer O, Kearney-Ramos TE, Lench D, Griffin M, Anton RF, George MS. (2017). Left frontal pole theta burst stimulation decreases orbitofrontal and insula activity in cocaine users and alcohol users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 178:310-317. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.03.039. PMCID: PMC5896018.
  • James GA, Kearney-Ramos TE, Fausett JS, Gess JL, Young JA, Kilts CD. (2016). Functional independence in resting-state connectivity facilitates higher-order cognition. Brain and Cognition. 105:78-87. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2016.03.008. PMCID: PMC5233432.
  • Kearney-Ramos TE, Fausett JS, Gess JL, Reno A, Peraza J, Kilts CD, James GA. (2014). Merging clinical neuropsychology and functional neuroimaging to evaluate the construct validity and neural network engagement of the n-back task. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 20(7):736-750. doi: 10.1017/S135561771400054X. PMCID: PMC4290162.