Janna Moen

Ph.D. 2021

PhD Thesis Title:

Regulation and Function of Ventral Tegmental Area Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors at the Interface of Alcohol and Nicotine Reward

Current Position:

Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale

Past Position(s):

Postdoctoral Fellow, Icahn School Of Medicine At Mount Sinai

Undergraduate Institution and Major:

Saint Anselm College, B.A. Biology, 2014

Graduate Advisor:

Anna Lee, Ph.D., Department of Pharmacology

Description of Graduate Research:

The laboratory of Anna Lee focuses on the molecular mechanisms of alcohol and nicotine abuse, which are two of the most commonly abused substances. These drugs are often co-abused, and both nicotine and alcohol require activation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) to elicit a reward response. Our laboratory investigates the interaction between alcohol, nicotine, and nAChRs in mesolimbic reward circuitry. My graduate research involves delineating the role of nAChR subunits in subtypes of ventral tegmental area neurons using a combination of viral gene delivery strategies, mouse models of alcohol and nicotine reward, drugs targeting nAChR subtypes, and DA excitability and release.

Graduate Publications:

  • Moen JK, Lee AM. Sex differences in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor system of rodents: Impacts on nicotine and alcohol reward behaviors. Front Neurosci. 2021 Sep 21;15:745783.
  • Moen JK, DeBaker MC, Myjak JE, Wickman K, Lee AM. Bidirectional sex-dependent regulation of α6 and β3 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors by protein kinase Cε. Addict Biol. 2021 May;26(3):e12954.
  • Touchette JC, Moen JK, Robinson JM, Lee AM. Enhancement of alcohol aversion by the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor drug sazetidine-A. Addict Biol. 2020 Apr 24:e12908.
  • DeBaker MC, Moen JK, Robinson JM, Wickman K, Lee AM. Unequal interactions between alcohol and nicotine co-consumption: suppression and enhancement of concurrent drug intake. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2020 Apr;237(4):967-978.
  • DeBaker MC, Robinson JM, Moen JK, Wickman K, Lee AM. Differential patterns of alcohol and nicotine intake: Combined alcohol and nicotine binge consumption behaviors in mice. Alcohol. 2019;85:57-64.

Graduate Abstracts:

  • Cell-Specific Targeting of Individual Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Subunits in Alcohol and Nicotine Reward. Poster presented at Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting; San Diego, CA. Program No. 159.04, November 2018.
  • Targeting Individual Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Subunits in Alcohol Reward Circuits. Poster presented at Research Society on Alcoholism Annual Meeting; San Diego, CA. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 42 (6), June 2018.

Graduate Level Awards and Honors:

  • COGS Travel Award 2019
  • Research Society on Alcoholism NIAAA Conference Student Merit Award 2019
  • Stark Advanced Scholarship Travel Award for a Specialty Conference,   2018
  • F31 Individual NRSA Predoctoral Training Grant F31AA026782, 2018-present
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse Predoctoral Training Grant, 2017
  • 3M Science and Technology Fellowship, 2015

GPN Committees:

  • Steering Committee, 2019-2021
  • Mentorship Committee, 2017-current
  • Admissions Committee, Student Representative, 2017-current

Other Committee Involvement:

  • Basic Graduate Student Council, 2018 - present
  • Graduate Student Benefits Committee, 2017

Professional Outreach:

  • Brain Awareness Week
    • Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, MN (November 2016)
    • Jefferson High School, Alexandria, MN (December 2016)
  • Minnesota Academy of Sciences: Science Bowl, St. Paul, MN
    • Middle school score keeper (January 2016)

Professional Memberships:

  • Society for Neuroscience, 2018-current
  • Research Society on Alcoholism, 2018-current

Thesis Committee Members:

Research Categories:

  • Neuroscience of Drug Abuse & Addiction
  • Neurogenetics
  • Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience


What Got You Interested In Research?

I've always loved science and medicine, and for a long time I wanted to be a clinician. Once I went to college, I realized my true passion was the science behind medical advancements, and I completed a full-time summer internship to see what a career in research might be like. I absolutely loved it and decided that graduate school, and a career in biomedical research, was the right fit for me.

Why Did You Choose MN?

I chose UMN for several reasons, the first and foremost being the very clear dedication the program has to the education and well-being of their students. It is a nationally ranked program with faculty members that are heavily invested in their students. I wanted a school that cared my scientific achievements as well as my professional development. The graduate students were also a cohesive and welcoming body, and it was comforting to know they would be a great resource for us not only for academic advice but personal advice as well. The course-heavy nature of the first year of this program was also a considerable factor, as I had no neuroscience experience coming into my first year and needed a strong foundation in the subject before beginning my PhD thesis work. Finally, Itasca was the perfect opportunity to learn about neuroscience while getting to know my classmates in a low-stress environment.

What Advice Would You Give a First Year Graduate Student?

Study hard, but give yourself time to relax and have fun. Your brain will thank you!

Janna Moen