Blanpied Lab

Home of your favorite synapses


Tom Blanpied, 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.

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 Metzbower, PhD., Postdoctoral Fellow

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. She got her PhD in the lab in 2019, having decided that being pregnant while defending would make life really easy. 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.

Stephanie PollittStephanie Pollitt, PhD., Postdoctoral Fellow

Stephanie received her PhD from Emory University, where her work with James Zheng demonstrated definitively that actin is awesome.


Poorna DharmasriPoorna 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 is Tennessee born, although, spent most of his life growing up in the outback (New South Wales, Australia), as well as up north (Ontario, Canada). He graduated in 2014 from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA) with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Biology. During his undergraduate studies, Austin worked in a lab interested in how the various subnuclei of the amygdala modulate chronic pain, with a specific focus on the role of mGluR5.  Concurrently, he worked in a lab that was focused on how the construction of visual stimuli influences memory performance. Although his undergraduate studies were primarily in psychology, he now focuses on understanding more fundamental properties of the brain. Currently, he is interested in how cell adhesion molecules influence synapse organization and function using techniques like single-molecule imaging and whole-cell patch clamp. Beyond his interests in the lab, Austin enjoys hunting down new movies and television shows, reading sci-fi/fantasy short stories, watching the Pittsburgh Pirates, and listening to West Coast hip-hop.

Mike Anderson, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

One secret he’s unlikely to admit: Mike is actually a triheteromer.




Emily DeMarco

Emily DeMarco, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Emily graduated from James Madison University with a BS in Psychology and a minor in Biology in 2017. She then did a 2-year Postbac with Gianluigi Tanda at NIDA where she worked to elucidate the mechanism of action of psychostimulants, using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to detect endogenous dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens in real-time in vivo. But she clearly had a change of heart, as she is now a second year PiN PhD student and has crossed over to the glutamate side. Although she professes to have no idea what direction she will go, she is already leaning towards studying presynaptic vesicle release machinery. Since starting graduate school/quarantine, she has also discovered a new stress outlet of baking goods from scratch, as baked goods always have been the way to her heart. She is also a macaroni and cheese connoisseur.

Minerva Contreras, Research Assistant Extraordinaire

Minerva is beyond great. Suffice it to say, this place would fall apart without her!


~~~ And those who have moved on to new cells or new science ~~~

Ai-Hui Tang, Research Associate

Ai-Hui is now Professor at University of Science and Technology of China, in Hefei. Ai-Hui 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. Ai-Hui remains interested in the molecular anatomy of 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.

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

Sai received his PhD in 2018 and is now finishing his MD at UMB. Aside from demonstrating the importance of mitochondrial function for the function of Blanpied Lab neurons, he also got married (sorry ladies).

Kaia Amoah, STAR-PREP student extraordinaire

Kaia is now a medical student at Howard University School of Medicine. She graduated from Hampton University in 2017 with a B.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Kaia was a STAR-PREP scholar in the lab in 2017-18, and studied the cellular basis of schizophrenia.

Haiwen Chen, MD/PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Haiwen is now a Pediatric Resident in the Johns Hopkins Children Center. She 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.

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

Tuo is currently Orthopaedic Surgery Resident Surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Peter graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, joined the Blanpied lab in 2012, and received his PhD in 2016 and MD in 2018.

Harold MacGillavry, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow

Harold is currently Assistant Professor of Cell Biology, Faculty of Science, Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Harold received his PhD in Amsterdam with Gus Smit and joined the Blanpied lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2010. In 2014, he moved to begin his independent career in Utrecht University.

Emily Lu, PhD student in the Program in Molecular Medicine

Emily is currently Senior Scientist at NexImmune, Inc. in Rockville, MD. Emily received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Taiwan, then joined the lab and received her PhD from UMB in 2013.

Justin Kerr, PhD student in the Program in Neuroscience

Justin is currently Scientist and Director of Operations at Talus Analytics. 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 first moved to the NIH for a postdoc with Jeff Diamond.

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

Nick is currently Adjunct Instructor of Neurology at UCSF. 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



Scott Schelp, PhD student



Open positions:

We are searching for talented individuals interested in cell biological mechanisms in the nervous system. Ongoing goals include defining the nature and function of synaptic nanoarchitecture, clarifying the roles of cell adhesion molecules, and linking synaptic molecular disorder to disease. Most of these projects involve application and development of super-resolution imaging methods including PALM, dSTORM, Expansion Microscopy, and DNA-PAINT, along with patch-clamp, gene editing, and optical methods of controlling and measuring cell function. 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. The lab is funded through the NIMH and NINDS as well as other sources. 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.