Kathryn A. Cunningham

  • Professor and Vice Chairman, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
    Chauncey Leake Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology
    Director, Center for Addiction Sciences and Therapeutics (CAST)

    Phone: (409) 772-9640
    Fax: (409) 747-7050
    Center for Addiction Sciences and Therapeutics (CAST)

  • BA, University of St Thomas, Houston, TX 
    PhD, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 
    1999-2000 Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program, Drexel, Philadelphia
    2002-2003 Certificate in Business Administration, University of Houston/UTMB
  • Dr. Cunningham and her team have made multiple contributions to our understanding of the neuropsychopharmacology of abused drugs and psychotherapeutics, the underlying neurobiology of behavior, and new target and drug discovery in neuropsychiatric conditions. With established strengths in pharmacology and neuroscience, Dr. Cunningham focuses on advancing the biological understanding of disorders with an addictive dimensionality (e.g., drug addiction, binge eating disorder, obesity) and developing effective and safe therapeutics to maximize human function. A primary focus is our cross-disciplinary, translational research efforts with medicinal and synthetic chemists, cell biologists, neuropharmacologists, and clinical scientists to pinpoint the critical roles of two serotonin proteins (5-HT2A and 5-HT2C receptors) in cocaine use disorder and the discovery of novel serotonergic medications to extend abstinence. Chemists and engineering collaborators Drs. Scott Gilbertson (University of Houston), Jai Rudra and Jia Zhou, work closely with Dr. Cunningham’s laboratory on additional novel targets for therapeutics and neuroprobes. To facilitate this effort, we have established new cellular, behavioral and molecular screening tools to study these systems. 

    Dr. Cunningham’s research has been funded continuously by NIH for 26 years, has led to three patents for new chemical entities, 118 peer-reviewed publications in high-quality journals and 29 reviews, chapters and commentaries. She has cultivated and sustained a life-long commitment to fostering the career development of new scientists with over 45 mentees who have crafted successful careers in academia, industry and government. Her research and educational contributions have been recognized by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics-Astellas Award for Translational Pharmacology as well as the Marian Fischman Memorial Award and the Mentorship Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. Dr. Cunningham is currently Associate Editor of ACS Chemical Neuroscience and Associate Editor of Nature Neuropsychopharmacology. She is an active educator, mentor and board member for community programs, secondary/high schools and colleges in the region.

    1. Ding, C., Bremer, N.M., Smith, T.D., Seitz, P.K., Anastasio, N.C., Cunningham, K.A., and Zhou, J. Exploration of synthetic approaches and pharmacological evaluation of PNU-69176E and its stereoisomer as 5-HT2C receptor allosteric modulators. ACS Chemical Neuroscience 3:538-545, 2012. PMCID: PMC3400380
    2. Anastasio, N.C., Gilbertson, S.R., Bubar, M.J., Agarov, A., Stutz, S.J., Jeng, Y., Bremer, N.M., Smith, T.D., Fox, R.G., Swinford, S.E., Seitz, P.K., Charendoff, M.N., Craft, J.W., Jr., Laezza, F.M., Watson, C.S., Briggs, J.M., and Cunningham, K.A. Peptide inhibitors disrupt the serotonin 5-HT2C receptor (5-HT2CR) interaction with phosphatase and tensin homolog to allosterically modulate cellular signaling and behavior. J. Neuroscience 32:1615-1630, 2013. PMCID: Journal-In Process
    3. Herin, D.V., Bubar, M.J., Seitz, P.K., Thomas, M.L., Hillman, G.R., Tarasenko, Y.I., Wu, P., and Cunningham, K.A. Elevated expression of serotonin 5-HT2A receptors in the rat ventral tegmental area enhances vulnerability to the behavioral effects of cocaine. Frontiers in Psychiatry 4:2, 2013.PMCID: PMC3565455
    4. Anastasio, N.C., Stutz, S.J., Fox, R.G., Sears, R.M., Emeson, R.B., DiLeone, R.J., O’Neil, R.T., Fink, L.H., Li, D., Green, T.A., Moeller, F.G., and Cunningham, K.A. Functional status of the serotonin 5-HT2C receptor (5-HT2CR) drives interlocked phenotypes that precipitate relapse-like behaviors in cocaine dependence. Neuropsychopharmacology 39:370-382, 2014.
    5. Anastasio, N.C., Liu, S., Swinford, S.E., Maili, L., Hamon, S.C., Lane, S.D., Fox, R.G., Nielsen, D.A., Cunningham, K.A., and Moeller, F.G. Variation within the serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2C receptor (5-HT2CR) system aligns with vulnerability to cocaine cue reactivity: A translational approach. Translational Psychiatry 4:e369, 2014.
    6. Fink, L.H.L., Anastasio, N.C., Fox, R.G., Moeller, F.G., and Cunningham, K.A. Individual differences in impulsive action reflect variation in the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor system. Neuropsychopharmacology 40:1957-1968, 2015. PMID 24566313 [PubMed-in process]
    7. De La Garza, R., II, Bubar, M.J., Carbone, C.L., Moeller, F.G., Newton, T.F., Anastasio, N.C., Harper, T.A., Ware, D.L., Fuller, M.A., Holstein, G.J., Jayroe, J.B., Bandak, S.I., Reiman, K.Z., Neale, A.C., Pickford, L.B., and Cunningham, K.A. Evaluation of the dopamine β hydroxylase (DβH) inhibitor nepicastat in participants who meet criteria for cocaine use disorder. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology Biological Psychiatry 59:40-48, 2015. PMID: 25602710 [PubMed-in process]
    8. Anastasio, N.C., Stutz, S.J., Fink, L.H.L., Swinford-Jackson, S.E., Sears, R.M., DiLeone, R.J., Rice, K.C., Moeller, F.G., and Cunningham, K.A. Serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2A receptor (5-HT2AR):5-HT2CR balance in medial prefrontal cortex associates with motor impulsivity. ACS Chemical Neuroscience 6:1248-1258, 2015. PMID: 26120876 [PubMed-in process]
    9. Ma, L., Steinberg, J.L., Cunningham, K.A., Lane, S.D., Kramer, L.A., Narayana, P.A., Kosten, T.R., Bechara, A., and Moeller, F.G. Inhibitory behavioral control: a stochastic dynamic causal modeling study using network discovery analysis. Brain Connectivity 5:177-186, 2015. [PMCID: PMC4394161].
    10. Ma, L., Steinberg, J.L., Cunningham, K.A., Lane, S.D., Bjork, J.M., Neelakantan, H., Price, A.E., Narayana, P.A., Kosten, T.R., Bechara, A., and Moeller, F.G. Inhibitory behavioral control: a stochastic dynamic causal modeling study comparing cocaine dependent subjects and controls. NeuroImage Clinical 7:837-847, 2015. PMID: 26082893 PMCID: PMC4459041. Free PMC Article.
    11. Swinford-Jackson, S.E., Anastasio, N.C., Fox, R.G., Stutz, S.J. and Cunningham, K.A. Incubation of cocaine cue reactivity associates with neuroadaptations in the cortical serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2C receptor (5-HT2CR) system. Neuroscience 324:50-61, 2016. [PMCID: PMC4838519]
    12. Rudra, J.S., Ding, Y., Neelakantan, H., Ding, C., Appavu, R., Stutz, S.J., Snook, J.D., Chen, H., Cunningham, K.A., and Zhou, J. Synthetic and multivalent peptide-nanofibers as self-adjuvanting carriers for cocaine vaccines. ACS Chemical Neuroscience 7:546-52, 2016 [Free PMC Article]
    13. Kasper, J.M., McCue, D.L., Milton, A.J., Szwed, A., Sampson, C.M., Ding, H, Huang, M., Carlton, S., Meltzer, H.Y., Cunningham, K.A., and Hommel, J.D. GABAergic projections from the dorsal raphe to the nucleus accumbens are regulated by Neuromedin U. Biological Psychiatry, 2016 Mar 8 [Epub].

    Recent review articles:

    1. Cunningham, K.A., and Anastasio, N.C. Serotonin at the nexus of impulsivity and cue reactivity: Implications for prevention and therapeutics in cocaine addiction. Neuropharmacology 76: 460-478, 2014.
    2. Howell, L.L., and Cunningham, K.A. Serotonin 5-HT2 receptor interactions with dopamine function: Implications for therapeutics in cocaine use disorder. Pharmacology and Therapeutics 67:176-197, 2015. 

    Link to NCBI mybiblography