Blanpied Lab

Home of your favorite synapses


Tom Blanpied, Associate Professor of Physiology

I graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. My long-standing interest in cognition and learning has lead to my current work to understand the cellular processes that underlie mental health and psychiatric disorder. At the University of Pittsburgh, I obtained a Ph.D. in the Department of Neuroscience with Jon Johnson, Ph.D., where I used single-channel recordings to study the mechanisms by which the anti-Parkinsonian and anti-Alzheimer’s drugs amantadine and memantine act on NMDA receptors. I then undertook postdoctoral training with George Augustine, Ph.D. and Michael Ehlers, M.D. Ph.D. at Duke University in the Department of Neurobiology, with whom I studied the cell biological mechanisms of synaptic transmission and neural plasticity. I joined the University of Maryland Department of Physiology as an Assistant Professor in 2005, and became Associate Professor with tenure in 2012.

Aihui Tang, Ph.D., Research Associate

Aihui graduated in Peking University, China, and then worked on the functions of inhibitory synapses and circuit in Brad Alger’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow and then research associate. He joined the Blanpied lab in 2014. Aihui is currently interested in the nanometer-scale structural organization of synaptic proteins in excitatory synapses and how these organizations modulate signal transmission at neuronal contacts. He first adapted the multiple-color 3-dimensional STORM imaging technique in the lab to investigate transsynaptic organization at single synapses.

Tyler B. Tarr, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Tyler received his PhD in 2015 from the University of Pittsburgh. At Pitt, he worked with Steve Meriney and discovered new mechanisms of synaptic structural and functional disruption in the neuromuscular disease Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome. Given this information, he was then able to identify a new calcium channel agonist with potential therapeutic action. He is currently working to solve all known diseases.

Aaron Levy, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Aaron graduated from the University of Rochester in 2011 with his BS in Neuroscience, and completed his PhD in the Yale Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program in 2017. At Yale, he worked with Tony Koleske to characterize two novel biochemical mechanisms of NMDA receptor regulation, one downstream of the tyrosine phosphatase SHP2 and one downstream of the tyrosine kinase Arg. Aaron joined the Blanpied lab in 2017, and is not yet used to proteins being dots on a screen instead of bands on a gel.

Sarah Ransom Metzbower, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Sarah hails originally from Brooklyn, NY and obtained her Bachelors of Science in Integrative Neuroscience from SUNY Binghamton in 2010. She then spent a year working as a lab technician with Alfredo Kirkwood at Johns Hopkins where she used field recordings to study synaptic plasticity in both hippocampal and cortical acute slices. In 2011 she started her PhD in the Program in Neuroscience at University of Maryland. In the lab, Sarah’s main focus is combining functional assays with super-resolution imaging to explore the relationship between synaptic transmission and PSD nanostructure. She uses calcium imaging as well as patch-clamp electrophysiology to measure receptor activation at single spines whose nanostructure is also mapped with PALM or STORM.

Sai DivakaruniSai Sachin Divakaruni, MD/PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience


Sai is doing all sorts of great stuff, including getting married (sorry ladies) and demonstrating the importance of mitochondrial function for the function of Blanpied Lab neurons.

Poorna Dharmasri, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Poorna graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience in 2013 from The College of William and Mary and received his master’s degree in Biology from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2015.  Poorna has been obsessed for a long time with how the brain works at its most basic level.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, he happily joined the Blanpied lab in 2016.  Here he is working to determine how neurons accomplish nanoscale alignment of neurotransmitter release sites and receptors, with a particular interest in calcium channels and glutamate receptors.  When he isn’t actively in lab, being constantly blown away by how cool his job is, Poorna can be found lifting weights in the gym, anxiously watching the Carolina Panthers play football, or, as of late, trying his hand at fantasy writing.  He enjoys storytelling in film and television, has a legendary sweet tooth, and is impatiently waiting for the day he can have his very own German Shepherd puppy. 

Austin Ramsey, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience


Austin swore that after deducing a fourth law of motion, he’d cut his hair.



Minerva Contreras, Research Assistant

Minerva’s great. Suffice it to say that this place would completely fall apart without her…



Kaia Amoah, STAR-PREP student extraordinaire

Kaia graduated from Hampton University in 2017 with a B.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology. As a STAR-PREP scholar, Kaia is gaining additional skills and preparation she needs to successfully matriculate into an MD/PHD program. She was thrilled to join the Blanpied Lab after hearing about the projects that are underway and not surprisingly, neuroscience has been nothing short of exciting for her. Currently, Kaia is studying the pathophysiology of schizophrenia, and whether excitatory synapses are affected by kynurenic acid which is known to be elevated in brains of schizophrenic patients. In her free time, however, she enjoys 5th quarter band battles, volunteering, running and making unforgettable memories with family and friends.


~~~ And those who have moved on to the new and different ~~~
Haiwen Chen, MD/PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Haiwen graduated from Harvard where she majored in psychology and minored in chemistry. After graduating she worked in a neuroimaging lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for a year before entering University of Maryland’s MD/PhD program. She spent her first two years at UMB rocking medical school and then made the wise decision to join the Blanpied lab for her thesis research. Haiwen is specifically interested in pre and post synaptic coordination. Currently she is in the midst of developing novel assays that would allow her to assess this using both super resolution imaging and functional measures. In her free time Haiwen is an avid runner. With her running enthusiasm she has helped start the tradition of the lab running together…even though some of her labmates do better as cheerleaders. She also is quite the foodie and loves trying out all of the awesome Baltimore restaurants in addition to bringing the lab delectable quiches and pies.

Tuo Peter Li, MD/PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Peter graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. He gratefully joined the Blanpied lab in 2012. In his thesis work, Peter aims to unravel molecular mechanisms that establish basal synaptic transmission and permit synaptic plasticity. Diffusion of AMPA-type glutamate receptors has been implicated to play important roles in maintaining and modulating the synaptic transmission, but the regulation of receptor diffusion at the synapse is poorly understood. Peter currently uses single-molecule tracking techniques and single-molecule PALM to study the regulation of receptor mobility at the resting synapse. Peter has a propensity for taking apart and putting together all electrical devices in the lab. When he has short days in lab, he enjoys rock climbing (bouldering, not the stuff with rope) and goofing around (though he should be more careful after falling on his head from hanging upside down on a bar in his basement and subsequently having to get 4 stitches).  Peter can’t wait until he can get a dog. Peter loves science.

Harold MacGillavry, Ph.D.

Harold graduated in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and joined the Blanpied lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2010. He is interested in the mechanisms that retain and position AMPA-type glutamate receptors in excitatory synapses that are critical for basal synaptic transmission and learning-associated synaptic plasticity. Multi-domain scaffolding molecules in the postsynaptic density (PSD) are critical for receptor positioning, and so he studied the subsynaptic distribution and dynamics of several classes of scaffolding molecules in live neurons using single-molecule PALM. In 2014, he moved to a Research Associate position at the Utrecht University, from where he will soon rule the world.

Emily Lu, PhD student in the Program in Molecular Medicine




Justin Kerr, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Justin graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Biology, then received his Ph.D. in the Program in Neuroscience here at UMB. In the lab, he investigated the role of the actin cytoskeleton in regulating synapse organization using various live-cell imaging approaches. He graduated in 2012 and moved to the NIH for a postdoc with Jeff Diamond.

Nick Frost, MD/PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Nick was interested in understanding cellular and molecular mechanisms contributing to synaptic function. As an MD/PhD student at Maryland, he completed his thesis in the lab, investigate the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton within dendritic spines. He pioneered  the use of new live-cell imaging approaches and single-molecule microscopy to visualize protein dynamics within the spine with  unprecedented resolution. After receiving his MD and PhD degrees in 2012, he moved to UCSF to begin his residency in Neurology.

Mustafa Chowdhury, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Tamar Davis, Research Assistant



Open positions:

We are always looking for talented individuals interested in cell biological mechanisms of synapse function. Ongoing projects include dynamics of the postsynaptic density and cytoskeletal organization in spines, using super-resolution cellular imaging (PALM) and single-molecule tracking.  These are exciting, new lines of work using cutting-edge techniques that require creative development to reach their full potential. If you think you could help us push these projects forward, have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Cell Biology, or a related field, and have experience and a strong interest in imaging, biophysics, or synaptic transmission, then please contact us. Programming experience or a strong quantitative orientation is a plus. Opportunities for integrating imaging with patch-clamp electrophysiology are available. The lab is funded through the NIMH, NIGMS, and the William E. Kahlert Foundation Foundation. Postdocs will additionally be expected to apply for further support via individual NRSAs, local training grants, and other sources. Write to tom @ for more information.