Nicolas Massaly



My current work focus on the accumbal dynorphin-KOR system and how its plasticity in the presence of pain alters motivation for rewards and negative affects. Characterization of pain-induced changes in this neural circuit is critical to overcome alterations in mood, reinforcement and opioid misuse epidemic.

This focus is a direct follow up on my PhD studies on neuroplastic changes in the nucleus accumbens during opioid-induced behaviors in Bernard Frances laboratory (Toulouse, France) and first post-doctoral experience in Christoph Stein laboratory studying pain and peripheral opioid analgesia (Berlin, Germany). 

Outside of lab I love cooking, tasting new beers, listening to music, going to shows and traveling. 

Moron Lab
Sidney Williams



My current work focuses on combining a novel virtual reality behavioral paradigm with two-photon imaging to observe neural networks in real time allowing for unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution while observing the structural changes that accompany drug-induced contextual memory formation.

My interest in the neurobiology of addiction began while working in Judy Grisel’s laboratory at Furman University trying to understand how endogenous levels of beta-endorphin affect alcohol consumption and continued at Florida Atlantic University in Robert Stackman’s laboratory determining the role of the head-direction cells in the anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN) in directional navigation. My doctorate work was focused on using whole-cell patch clamp methods to understand how HCN channels modulate neuronal excitability and cortical network activity in John Hablitz’s laboratory at University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Moron Lab
Khairunisa Ibrahim



I first entered the pain research field in my final undergraduate year when I did Honours’ project under Dr. Sanjay Khanna at National University of Singapore. It was then that my interest in the subject developed and I embarked on my PhD journey in the same lab. My PhD work looked at the role of AMPA receptor-mediated glutamatergic network in the medial septum (MS), in modulating the hippocampal theta wave activity. The project was further developed to understand how perturbing the AMPA receptors in the MS modulates both the acute pain and chronic pain using the formalin test and chronic constriction injury model, respectively.


Moving forward in Dr. Jose Moron-Concepcion’s lab, I will start out with a longitudinal study looking at the changes in the excitability of the hippocampus in the presence of chronic pain using various models and how that might affect its connections with the nucleus accumbens, which is important in the reward system. This is in hope that it will provide some insights on how chronic pain-induced changes in the hippocampal might influence or alter drug addiction.

Outside of the lab, I love spending time with my family, exploring new places, baking and having some quiet time to read a good novel.

Moron Lab
Brian Ruyle



The primary focus of my postdoctoral work is to examine neural mechanisms underlying opioid-induced respiratory depression. Specifically, I am interested in determining whether repeated opioid self-administration produces dysfunction within central respiratory nuclei. A secondary focus is to determine examine the connections between the nuclei of the mesolimbic reward pathway nuclei and cardiorespiratory nuclei in the brainstem and hypothalamus. My research aims to bridge the gap between the mesolimbic reward pathway and central respiratory networks and determine whether impairment in these central networks occurs during conditions of opioid abuse.


I received my PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Missouri. My graduate work examined the arterial chemoreflex neurocircuitry. I evaluated the role of a hypothalamic projection to the brainstem and determined that this pathway is critical for driving appropriate autonomic and cardiorespiratory responses to peripheral chemoreflex activation.

Outside of the lab, I enjoy spending time with my family, listening to music, and playing the guitar.

Moron Lab
Jessica Higginbotham



My research aims to understand how stress influences the neurobiology of substance use disorders. After completing my undergraduate work at Saint Louis University, I conducted my PhD training at Washington State University with Dr. Rita Fuchs where I studied a discrete and ongoing memory storage process, reconsolidation. My thesis work characterized how endocannabinoid signaling and noradrenergic circuits modulate limbic plasticity during cocaine memory reconsolidation to identify potential targets for minimizing persistent drug-seeking behavior.

I am eager to return to St. Louis and expand on my research in the Moron-Concepcion lab by elucidating pain-induced neuroadaptations underlying maladaptive opioid use.  I will use instrumental models of context- and stress-induced relapse to determine how chronic pain influences various stages of opioid use and identify neurobiological mechanisms underlying these behaviors.

Outside of lab, I love navigating new challenges with my inquisitive daughter, spending time with family, the arts, cooking, traveling, music, photography, witty sarcasm, and rediscovering St. Louis.

Moron Lab