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Neurobiology Division Faculty

Christopher Ross, M.D., Ph.D., Director

Dr. Christopher Ross is Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Cornell University School of Medicine and had clinical training in Psychiatry and Neuropsychiatry at Johns Hopkins. He then pursued post-doctoral work in the laboratories of Solomon Snyder at Johns Hopkins and Axel Ullrich at the Max Planck Institute in Martinsreid, Germany.

His lab focuses on the neurobiology and neurogenetics of neuropsychiatric disorders including Huntington's disease (HD), Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and others. He is Director of the Baltimore Huntington's Disease Center at Johns Hopkins, one of the two NIH-funded centers for the study of HD in the United States. The research in the different groups in the Center ranges from constructing cell and mouse models of HD to clinical and imaging studies of HD patients to clinical trials of novel therapeutic agents. He has sponsored trainees at the predoctoral, postdoctoral, and junior faculty levels, and his former trainees have faculty positions in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Program Affiliations

Russell L. Margolis, M.D.

Dr. Russell Margolis graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Biology in 1982, and received his M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1986. He completed a residency in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins in 1990. After a fellowship emphasizing neuroplasticity and pharmacology at the National Institute for Mental Health under the mentorship of Drs. Robert Post and De-Maw Chuang, he returned to Johns Hopkins as a faculty member of the Division of Neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry in 1992. He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in 1993, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry in 1997, and Professor of Psychiatry in 2004.  He is currently director of the Laboratory of Genetic Neurobiology and the Neurogenetics Testing Laboratory and is a faculty member of the Program of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. His research focus is on the psychiatric, genetic, and pathogenic aspects of neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, with a particular emphasis on diseases affecting the cerebellum and the basal ganglia.

Professional Interests

  • Affective disorders
  • Cerebellar disorders
  • Genetics of movement disorders
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Huntington's disease genetics and pathogenesis
  • Psychiatric manifestations of neurological disorders

Program Affiliations

Wenzhen Duan, M.D., Ph.D

Dr. Wenzhen Duan is Assistant Professor in Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  She received her M.D. in Medicine in 1992 and Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology in 1998 from Peking Union Medical University, China.  She pursued post-doctoral research in Neurobiology of neurodegenerative diseases under Dr. Mark P. Mattson at University of Kentucky and National Institute on Aging. She joined faculty in Division of Neurobiology in 2004.

Her research interests focus on understanding pathogenesis and cell death pathways of neurodegeneration with a view to discovering new therapeutic strategies in neurodegenerative diseases with a focus on Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). The research in her group includes developing cell and mouse models of HD and PD, therapeutic target identification and validation, compound screening, preclinical trials and image studies.

Professional Interests

  • Neurobiology and therapeutics of Huntington’s disease.
  • Neurobiology and therapeutics of Parkinson’s disease.
  • The role of neurotrophins in neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Metabolic regulation in neurodegenerative diseases.

Program Affiliations

Mikhail V. Pletnikov, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Mikhail V. Pletnikov is an assistant professor in Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He received his M.D. in 1986 from I.M. Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy, Moscow, Russia and his Ph.D. in Normal Physiology in 1990 from P.K. Anokhin Institute of Normal Physiology, Moscow, Russia. He did his post-doctoral training under Dr Timothy H. Moran (1996-1999) at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and under Dr Kathryn M. Carbone (1996-1999) at the laboratory of pediatric and respiratory viral infections, the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He joined faculty in Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in 1999. His current research interests focus on understanding pathogenesis of human psychiatric disease with neurodevelopmental origin, e.g., schizophrenia and autism with particular emphasis on a role of gene-environment interactions and the neuro-immune interplay in the complex pathogenesis of psychiatric conditions.

Professional Interests

  • Neurobiology of psychiatric diseases
  • Neuroimmunology of neuronal and synaptic dysfunctions
  • The role of gene-environment interactions in mental health
  • Animal models of human  behavioral disorders

Program Affiliations

  • Assistant Professor, Division of Neurobiology, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
  • Director, Laboratory of Behavioral Neurobiology.
  • Director, The Mouse Behavioral Core at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Wanli W. Smith, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Wanli Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the director of the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory. She received her M.D. in clinical medicine and M.S. in pharmacology at Xi’an Medical University and her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Beijing Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in China. She pursued post-doctoral work in cellular and molecular biology laboratories in the National Institute on Aging at the National Institute of Health and and in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Neurobiology, at Johns Hopkins. Her lab is currently directed towards understanding the molecular pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and other disorders such as obesity. Her research goal is to elucidate the molecular signaling pathways of these disorders, to identify potential therapeutic targets and to develop novel therapeutics. Dr. Smith welcomes the fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, who are interested in this research, to join her lab.

Professional Interests

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Neuronal cell death and protein aggregation in neuropsychiatric conditions

Program Affiliations

  • Director, Laboratory of Cellular Neurobiology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
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