P. Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D


Dr. Conn is the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD). Dr. Conn received a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 1986 and pursued postdoctoral studies at Yale University. Dr. Conn joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology at Emory University in 1988 where he where he established himself as a leader in studies of neurotransmitter receptors and their roles in regulating brain function in circuits involved in psychiatric and neurological disorders. In 2000, Dr. Conn assumed the position of Senior Director and Head of the Department of Neuroscience at Merck and Company in West Point, PA. In addition to directing the drug discovery efforts of his department in multiple CNS therapeutic areas, Dr. Conn was responsible for overseeing the global efforts of the company in discovery of new therapeutic agents for treatment of schizophrenia and movement disorders.

Dr. Conn moved to Vanderbilt University in 2003 where he is the founding director of the VCNDD, with a primary mission of facilitating translation of recent advances in basic science to novel therapeutics. By 2011 the VCNDD had grown to approximately 100 full time scientists and under his leadership raised over $100M in external research funding. In addition, the VCNDD advanced novel molecules from multiple major programs into development for major brain disorders with industry partners, including Johnson and Johnson, Astrazeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, and others. Each of these major efforts are focused on novel mechanisms for therapeutic action that have come from the basic research efforts of Dr. Conn and his collaborators. Dr. Conn has served as Associate Editor and Editor in Chief of Molecular Pharmacology and in editorial positions with multiple other international journals. He has served the Scientific Advisory Boards of multiple foundations, research institutes, and companies. He served as Chairman of the Neuropharmacology Division of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on multiple national and international committees. He has received numerous awards, including the NARSAD Essel Distinguished Investigator Award, the ASPET-Astellas Award in Translational Pharmacology, the Pharmacia - ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics, the Charles R. Park Award for Basic Research Revealing Insights into Physiology and Pathophysiology, the PhRMA Foundation Award for Excellence in Pharmacology and Toxicology. V. Sagar Sethi Mental Health Research Award, Jacob K. Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke. He was named as an ISI Most- Cited Scientists in Pharmacology & Toxicology and the Lee University 2008 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Dr. Conn’s current research is focused on development of novel treatment strategies for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious brain disorders.

Visit the Jeffrey Conn Research Group.


Craig W. Lindsley, Ph.D.


Craig W. Lindsley, Ph.D. is the Director of Medicinal Chemistry for the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD) and the Center co-Director with Jeff Conn at Vanderbilt University focused on the development of allosteric modulators of GPCRs for the treatment of schizophrenia, PD, AD, FXS and depression. Craig received his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1996 and pursued postdoctoral studies at Harvard University. In 2001, after brief stints at Parke-Davis and Eli Lilly, Craig accepted a position at Merck & Co., Inc. (West Point) developed a streamlined approach for lead optimization, which resulted in the accelerated delivery of six preclinical candidates, several of these have now provided proof-of-concept in Phase II clinical trials for oncology, schizophrenia and cognition. While at Merck, Craig pioneered the development of allosteric ligands for Akt, mGlu5 and M1, providing critical proof-of-concept compounds that validated the mechanism of allosteric modulation.

In late 2006, Dr. Lindsley moved to Vanderbilt as an Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry. In addition to serving as the Director of Medicinal Chemistry for the VCNDD, Dr. Lindsley also serves as Director of the Vanderbilt MLSCN Chemistry Center and co-Director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology (VICB) Synthesis Core. He is also on the scientific advisory board to the National Chemical Genomics Research Center and a world-wide Medicinal Chemistry consultant for both Amgen and the Michael J Fox Foundation. Dr. Lindsley has served as a reviewer for a large number of journals and currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Combinatorial Chemistry and as Editor-in Chief of ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Visit the Craig Lindsley Research Group.


Colleen M. Niswender, Ph.D.


Colleen Niswender received her B.S. degree in Pharmacy from the University of Toledo. During her graduate career in the laboratory of Dr. Ronald Emeson at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Niswender studied the regulation of RNA editing in the mammalian central nervous system and characterized molecular determinants regulating RNA editing events within the AMPA subtype glutamate receptor, GluR2, and the G protein-coupled 5HT2C serotonin receptor. After receiving her Ph.D. in Pharmacology in 1996, Dr. Niswender pursued postdoctoral studies with Dr. Stan McKnight at the University of Washington, focusing on the study of Protein Kinase A signal transduction using recombinant mouse lines and genetically engineering mutations within the PKA enzyme.

Dr. Niswender was recruited to the Conn Lab in 2004, and now serves as the Director of Molecular Pharmacology for the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery and as an Research Associate Professor of Pharmacology. Dr. Niswender is actively involved in both the main VCNDD collaborations, including those partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Seaside Therapeutics, Johnson and Johnson, and the NIH, as well as studies interfacing with the Molecular Libraries Probe Centers Network (MLPCN). She is also the Biology Team Leader for the development of potential clinical candidates for mGluR4 modulation as a treatment of Parkinson's disease. Addtionally, in conjunction with Vanderbilt's High Throughput Screening Facility, Dr. Niswender and others within the Molecular Pharmacology group identify and characterize compounds that act as allosteric modulations of the various muscarinic receptors and mGluRs. It is hoped that these compounds will eventually provide starting points for clinically relevant drugs providing therapeutic benefit for neurological disorders and psychiatric disorders.


Carrie K. Jones, Ph.D.

DIRECTOR of Development

Carrie Jones received her B.S. in Biology from Indiana University and further completed her Ph.D. from the Indiana University School of Medicine. While obtaining her Ph.D., she began her work in the Neuroscience division of pharmacology at Lily Research Laboratories, starting in 2001 on her first Postdoctoral Research Fellowship there. In 2005, Dr. Jones embarked on further postdoctoral studies within Vanderbilt University’s Department of Pharmacology.

Dr. Jones joined the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery in 2005, and now serves as the Director of Behavioral Pharmacology and is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology. Her In Vivo Pharmacology team is dedicated to utilizing translational approaches, including assessment of changes in behavior, neurochemistry and imaging endpoints such as PET and functional MRI, to explore the underlying mechanisms of novel ligands targeting different G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) and transporters within the CNS and the implications of these effects on different disease states, most notably schizophrenia.

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Jerri M. Rook, Ph.D.

Director of IN Vivo and Behavioral Pharmacology