Megan Monko

Ph.D. 2022

Thesis Title:

The Posteromedial Cortex Across Species

Current Position:

Science Freelance Writer

Undergraduate Institution and Major:

Coe College, B.A. in Biology, Molecular Biology and Neuroscience

Graduate Advisor:

Sarah Heilbronner, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience

Graduate Research:

My research involves using tract-tracing to investigate circuit-level homology of the posteromedial cortex in rodent and primate. The posteromedial cortex is a major hub of the default mode network, which is a coordinated network of brain regions that are most active during rest and autobiographical thoughts and is altered during many psychiatric diseases. My work will allow for a deeper understanding of how translational research done in rodents relates to humans.

Graduate Publications:

  • Foster BL, Koslov SR, Aponik-Gremillion L, Monko ME, Hayden BY, Heilbronner SR. A tripartite view of the posterior cingulate cortex. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2022 Dec 1. doi: 10.1038/s41583-022-00661-x.
  • Monko MM, Heilbronner SR. Retrosplenial cortical connectivity with frontal basal ganglia networks. J  Cogn Neurosci. 2021 May 1;33(6):1096-1105.
  • Monko MM, Heilbronner SR. Some animal models are more equal than others: Cortico-striatal circuits for translation. Lab Anim (NY). 2020 Aug;49(8):225-22

Graduate Abstracts:

  • Monko ME, Kandikonda TP, Sethl A, Heilbronner SR. Cross-species circuit identification of components of the posteromedial cortex. Presented at Society for Neuroscience, Chicago, IL. 2019.

Research Categories:

  • Neuroimaging and Optogenetics
  • Neuroscience of Drug Abuse and Addiction


Patrick Rothwell, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience
Lihsia Chen, Ph. D., Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development
A. David Redish, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience
Nicola Grissom, Ph.D., Department of Psychology
Sarah Heilbronner, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience

Thesis Committee Members:

Robert Meisel, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience (Chair)
Sarah Heilbronner, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience
Jan Zimmermann, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience
Linda McLoon, Ph.D., Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosscience; Department of Neuroscience

Undergraduate Awards:

Dean’s list: Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015; Outstanding Biology Senior Award; Member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa

Undergraduate and Post-bac Research:

I had several research opportunities as an undergraduate, including the study of how psychological stress under a chronic variable stress paradigm or an acute stress paradigm increases markers of neuroinflammation, conditioned drug-seeking behavior, and the cocaine deprivation effect. I also performed some immunology-related research. My favorite was the study of neuroinflammatory markers because the faculty member was right out of his post-doctoral studies, and I was able to help him start his research laboratory at the college.

What got you interested in research?

Since I was a child, I have always wanted to be a research scientist. When I was in sixth grade I read a Scientific American article about mirror neurons, and I have been on that path since. Being in the lab feels like home.

Why did you choose MN?

I chose Minnesota after seeing presentations by some of the faculty at the Midbrains Conference during my junior year. The faculty are well-rounded and collaborative. In addition, Itasca is a great opportunity.  Minnesota is also home of the best lindy hoppers (dancers) in the world, and when I have time outside of school, that is what I do for fun.

Student Mentor and the Best Advice They Gave.

Zoe Christenson Wick: When I was struggling to find a first rotation, she gave me a list of people to contact.

Megan Monko