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image of somatostatin in mouse brain

New research on effects of binge drinking earns biologist early career award

11 November 2022

Nikki Crowley, assistant professor of biology and biomedical engineering at Penn State, is the 2022 recipient of the Neuropsychopharmacology Editor’s Early Career Award (also known as the NEECA).

This award was established in 2019 by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), and it recognizes the top peer-reviewed paper from an early career investigator published in the previous year.

Crowley received the award for her work titled "Somatostatin neurons control an alcohol binge drinking prelimbic microcircuit in mice." In their research for this paper, Crowley’s lab established how somatostatin neurons regulate cortical networks — and how this connection becomes dysregulated in mouse models of alcohol use. This work also formed the foundation of Crowley’s new five-year NIH R01 award, supporting her work investigating peptide signaling in the prelimbic cortex.

“I am extremely grateful to the editors of NPP for recognizing our work as the top early career research to come out of the journal in the last year. Knowing they consider our science as some of the best they’ve seen is an honor,” said Crowley of the award.

The work was led by Nigel Dao, now a graduate student in Neural Science at New York University. “Joining a new research group is a risk,” Crowley noted, “and all the students who joined my lab believed in my vision of running a group known for high-quality and rigorous science.”

“We’re very fortunate to have outstanding young scientists like Nikki among our research faculty,” said Andrew Read, director of Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. “She’s a perfect example of the kind of brilliance we want around us, and she could not be more deserving of this award. I can’t wait to see where Nikki’s work leads next.”

“This is great news for Nikki, and we are so happy to see one of our stellar faculty recognized,” said Elizabeth McGraw, department head of biology in the Eberly College of Science. “Nikki’s work and this award demonstrate the caliber of internationally recognized research at Penn State, focused on complex human health challenges.”

In December, Crowley will be honored with an award ceremony at the annual meeting of the ACNP and will present an invited talk. Her lab is supported by Department of Biology in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, NIAAA, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), founded in 1961, is a professional, international organization of leading brain scientists. Selected primarily on the basis of their original research contributions, the membership of the College is drawn from scientists in diverse subfields of neuroscience, including behavioral pharmacology, clinical psychopharmacology, epidemiology, genetics, molecular biology, neurochemistry, neuroendocrinology, neuroimaging, neuroimmunology, neurophysiology, neurology, psychiatry and psychology.