Translational Neurobiology of Development (TrND) Laboratory

Location and Contact Information

​Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab
1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 78
Herbert Pardes Building
New York, NY 10032
United States

Principal Investigator

  • Profile Headshot
    • Co-Director, NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Translational Research in Child Psychiatric Disorders
    • Co-Director, Whitaker Scholar Program in Developmental Neuropsychiatry
    • Interim Chair, Department of Psychiatry
    • Interim Executive Director, New York State Psychiatric Institute
    • Interim Psychiatrist-in-Chief, NewYork Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Irving Medical Center

The TrND Laboratory is dedicated to helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and their families. We are approaching this goal using a variety of techniques, from animal models to research in adults with ASD. The majority of our efforts go toward developing and studying mouse models to understand the relationship between ASD or OCD risk factors and the resulting changes in brain and behavior. We are also working to translate laboratory research findings into novel treatments for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders or related syndromal disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome.

The CADB Medicine Research Program is a branch of the TrND Research Group dedicated to helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The program is a collaboration between NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Columbia University Medical Center at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB). Our team is working to translate laboratory research findings into novel treatments for children and adults with ASD and related syndromal disorders, such as Fragile X Syndrome.

Lab Members

  • Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD

    • Research Scientist
    • Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry)

    Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD, has joined the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab as a research scientist and an Assistant Professor at CUIMC. Dr. O’Reilly Sparks uses rodent models to understand typical and atypical neurodevelopment, with the idea that a single insult can alter brain-wide function at various neurobiological levels. Since earning her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, Dr. O’Reilly Sparks has focused her studies on the systems underlying learning and memory, the hippocampal-parahippocampal network. Her work involves investigation of neuroanatomical and molecular development of the hippocampus as well as examining the structure and function of the adult hippocampus after abnormal development. These studies have implications for mental illnesses of neurodevelopmental origin, such as autism and schizophrenia. She has ongoing collaborations at the Norwegian Institute for Science and Technology and at New York University where she conducted her postdoctoral studies.

  • Muhammad O. Chohan, MD

    • Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry

    Dr. Chohan obtained his medical degree from Shifa College of Medicine in Pakistan. While in medical school, he completed a research internship at Columbia University, where he studied abnormalities in cortical neuronal architecture induced by the disruption of early cortical neurogenesis. He then returned for additional research training at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where he studied genetic models featuring dopamine-neuron-specific deletions of channels that control dopamine-neuron spike firing. More recently, Dr. Chohan has examined the early postnatal development of neuronal connections involved in the vocalization of infant rats and in social attachment in general, and has applied stem-cell transplantation, in vivo electrophysiology, data-analysis methods, and behavioral-neuroscience tools to query diverse but interrelated hypotheses of cortico-limbic basal ganglia dysfunction in animal models of mental illness. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab, focusing on basal ganglia circuits, Dr. Chohan hopes to determine neural mechanisms underlying behavior abnormalities seen in genetic models of autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Micah Davoren, BA

    • Research Assistant

    Micah Davoren graduated from Haverford College with a BA in psychology and a minor in education. Her undergraduate research thesis examined attachment style and the therapeutic alliance as predictors of treatment outcome for social anxiety disorder. As a research assistant for the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, she is currently working on phase II clinical trials for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

  • Miranda Zuniga-Kennedy, BA

    • Research Assistant

    Miranda Zuniga-Kennedy graduated from SUNY Binghamton University with a BA in psychology and English literature. She spent most of her undergraduate years as a research assistant for the Binghamton Anxiety Clinic, participating in a number of studies focusing on social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and circadian rhythm. In the future, she hopes to pursue her PhD in pediatric health psychology. As  a research assistant for the CADB Medicine Research Program, she is currently working on phase ll clinical trials for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder.

Select Publications

  • For a list of all publications, refer to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  • Montgomery, A. K., Shuffrey, L. C., Guter, S. J., Anderson, G. M., Jacob, S., Mosconi, M. W., ... & Veenstra-VanderWeele, J. (2018). Maternal serotonin levels are associated with cognitive ability and core symptoms in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 57(11), 867-875. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2018.06.025

  •   Zike, I. D., Chohan, M. O., Kopelman, J. M., Krasnow, E. N., Flicker, D., Nautiyal, K. M., ... & Tanaka, K. F. (2017). OCD candidate gene SLC1A1/EAAT3 impacts basal ganglia-mediated activity and stereotypic behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(22), 5719-5724. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1701736114

  • Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Muller CL, Iwamoto H, Sauer JE, Owens WA, Cohen J, Shah C, Mannangatti P, Jessen T, Thompson BJ, Carneiro AMD, Crawley JN, Sanders-Bush E, McMahon DG, Ramamoorthy S, Daws LC, Sutcliffe JS, Blakely RD (2012). Autism gene variant causes hyperserotonemia, serotonin receptor hypersensitivity, social impairment and repetitive behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 5469-5474.

  • Hammock EA#, Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Yan Z, Kerr TM, Morris M, Anderson GM, Carter CS, Cook EH, Jacob S (2012). Examining autism spectrum disorders by biomarkers: example from the oxytocin and serotonin systems. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 51: 712-721.

  • Dove D, Warren Z, Taylor JL, Sathe N, McPheeters ML, Veenstra-VanderWeele J (2012). Medication treatments for adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Pediatrics 130: 717-26.