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Steven Kinsey, PhD – Associate Professor; Coordinator, Behavioral Neuroscience Training Program


2102 Life Sciences Building


Psychology; Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute

Graduate Training

Ph.D., Psychology: Behavioral Neuroscience, The Ohio State University


Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, The Ohio State University;
Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University


Personal Site: http://community.wvu.edu/~sgkinsey/

Associate Professor; Coordinator, Behavioral Neuroscience Training Program

I am currently accepting PhD students to start in the lab in Fall 2017! Information on how to apply can be found here. Please note that I train graduate students via the Department of Psychology’s

Behavioral Neuroscience
PhD program (not the “Neuroscience” program on the Health Sciences campus).

Research Areas

    1. Endocannabinoid System

What is a cannabinoid?

Cannabinoids are compounds that are similar to those compounds found in Cannabis sativa (marijuana). Cannabinoids are categorized based on their origin:

      1. Phytocannabinoids are plant-based cannabinoids. Some examples are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol
        (THC), which is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana, cannabidiol,
        and cannabichromene.
      2. Synthetic cannabinoids are laboratory produced compounds that are known to bind
        to cannabinoid receptors. These synthetic cannabinoids have been in the news
        lately because they are being sold as “incense” to be smoked by people. Synthetic
        cannabinoids are not intended for human consumption and are dangerous to use
        because their effects are largely unknown. Many hospitalizations have been
        reported by people who smoke synthetic cannabinoids.
      3. Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that are naturally produced in the body (that
        is, endogenously produced).

The endocannabinoid system

The endogenous cannabinoid (i.e., endocannabinoid) system consists of:

      1. Two cloned cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2)
      2. The endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol (2-AG). In addition,
        there are some other compounds that have been shown to bind to CB1 and CB2
        but may have limited effects in live animals.
      3. The enzymes that regulate the biosynthesis and catabolism of the endocannabinoids.
        For example, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) metabolizes anandamide into
        ethanolamine and arachydonic acid (AA), whereas monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL)
        is the primary enzyme responsible for metabolizing 2-AG into glycerol and arachydonic

Effects of endocannabinoids

Systemic administration of anandamide or 2-AG has limited efficacy in vivo, because these endocannabinoids are so rapidly degraded by FAAH or MAGL (along with ABHD6 and ABHD12), respectively.  However, pharmacological inhibiton of FAAH, for eample with the Pfizer compound PF-3845, increases tissuelevels of anandamide as well as some other fatty acid amides that FAAH hydrolizes. Similarly, the inhibition of MAGL, for example with the compound JZL184, increases tissue levels of 2-AG. Alterations in endocannabinoid levels affect a broad range of physiological and behavioral systems. Our lab as well as others have demonstrated that PF-3845 and JZL184 produce a range of effects including analgesia and decreases in anxiety-like behaviors.

For further reading, please see our recent minireview in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

  1. Stress, Drug Dependence, and EmotionOne line of federally funded research investigates how endocannabinoids affect
    emotionality, that is, stress, anxiety, and depression. Cannabis has been used
    for millennia to decrease stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and bring
    about feelings of euphoria. Endocannabinoids are released on demand in response
    to stress, and appear to have anxiety-reducing effects in animals. Thus, the
    overall goal of this line of research is to develop novel endocannabinoid-based
    treatments for disorders involving anxiety and depression.In addition, we are investigating how drug dependence represents a stressor,
    and how the endocannabinoid system affects the development of anxiety-like
    and depressive-like behaviors over the lifespan of the animal.

    We use an array of
    automated behavioral systems to investigate the effects of cannabinoids
    on anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors in a range of rodent models.

  2. Inflammation and AnalgesiaMy first line of funded research focuses on the anti-inflammatory role of endocannabinoids.
    Chronic pain is a problem for a large segment of our population, and pain resulting
    from nerve injury is particularly resistant to existing drug treatments, including
    opiates and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin and
    ibuprofen.The endocannabinoid system offers many promising targets for the development
    of alternative analgesics (i.e., pain reducing drugs). Published reports from
    our lab and others indicate that manipulation of the endocannabinoid system
    reduces systemic inflammation. We use models of inflammatory arthritis, as
    well as both inflammatory and neuropathic pain in animal models, with the goal
    of finding new treatments for these chronic conditions.

    In addition, we also study the role of endocannabinoids in gastric inflammation,
    using models of chemical- and stress-induced gastritis. The primary side effect
    of existing NSAIDs is that they cause gastric inflammation. As people build
    tolerance to these drugs and take higher doses, the occurrence and severity
    of these side effects increases, leading to ulceration and hemorrhaging. The
    overall goal of these projects of to use the analgesic anti-inflammatory properties
    of endocannabinoids to prevent and treat gastric pain and inflammation.

Lab Personnel

Molly S. Crowe, MS

Behavioral Neuroscience Graduate Student


Molly is a fifth year PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience program. She is
interested in many aspects of cannabinoid function, with special regard to the
effects of stress on inflammatory processes, including wound healing, gastric hemorrhages,
and algesia.

When not in the lab, Molly is also an avid cyclist and hiker.

Sara R. Nass, MS

Behavioral Neuroscience Graduate Student


Sara is a fourth year PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience program. She is
interested in various aspects of cannabinoid function, with special regard to the
effects of cannabinoids on inflammation and nociception.

When not in the lab, Sara enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy literature,
and exploring new recipes.

Kristen R. Trexler, MS

Graduate Research Associate

krtrexler@mix.wvu.eduKristen is a second year PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience program. Kristen’s
work investigates the psychoactive properties of cannabinoid administration,
with specific emphasis on the behavioral effects of cannabinoid withdrawal.

When not in the lab, Kristen enjoys swimming and hiking.

Floyd Steele

Behavioral Neuroscience Graduate Student


Floyd is a first year doctoral student in the Behavioral Neuroscience PhD program.
His thesis work focuses on many aspects of cannabinoid function, with special
regard to the analgesic effects of cannabinoids in neuropathic and inflammatory
pain models.

When not in the lab, Floyd enjoys reading, music, and board games.


Peer-reviewed Articles







Older publications

WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute