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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Photo of Jim Pickel

Jim Pickel, Ph.D.


Dr. James Pickel established and is the chief of the NIMH Transgenic Core, which produces transgenic animals for neuroscience research. He completed his Ph.D. work with Dr. Max Cooper at the University of Alabama in Birmingham where he studied the development of stem cells and precursors of the immune system. He helped define two hallmarks of lymphocyte development: the rearrangements of immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor genes and the expression of proteins that guide stem cells to developmental niches. His interest in stem cell development led him to begin work on neural stem cells during a postdoctoral fellowship with Ron MacKay at NIH. Those studies focused on transcription control that established the neural stem cell state using transient transgenic mice. Since then, he has developed germline and transient transgenic marmosets in the NIMH transgenic core. Before beginning his scientific career he earned an AB in English literature from The College of William and Mary and attended the International School, Bangkok.

Research Interests

The NIMH Transgenic Core has pioneered techniques to produce a range of rodent and non-human primate transgenic animals. Transgenic lines in these diverse species are produced for neuroscience investigators at the NIH and are developed in collaborations for specific research projects. In addition, the Transgenic Core develops novel techniques to expand the repertoire of models available for neuroscience research. These methods have increased efficiency and reduce timelines required for developing these research animals. These and other projects have benefitted from his extensive collaborations with many investigators: intramural, extramural, national and international.

Current research focus

  • Producing transgenic rodents and non-human primates using refined CRISPR technologies in vitro and in vivo. In collaboration with intramural investigators, the core has continued to develop more efficient uses of CRISPR-mediated gene engineering.
  • Expanding the panel of transgenic rats produced in the core, primarily those expressing the cre recombinase in neuronal subtype-specific patterns. These lines have been distributed to over eighty investigators. The current panel of rats is available from the Rat Research and Resource Center (
  • Developing viral vectors to deliver transgenes in vivo to multiple rodent and non-human primate species. In several collaborations, the core has developed viral vectors that introduce transgenes at discrete stages of development as well as in adult animals.
  • Establishing simplified methods for spreading genetic diversity of marmosets. Analysis of whole-genome sequences from several colonies has been analyzed in collaboration with intramural and extramural labs. The core uses assisted reproductive methods to expand diversity.
  • Introducing novel methods to deliver transgenes to the CNS. Viral vectors that cross the blood-brain barrier have been developed in collaborations. These vectors are delivered through the peripheral circulation, cross the blood-brain barrier and express the transgene in neurons.

Selected Publications

Neuron-specific genome modification in the adult rat brain using CRISPR-cas9 transgenic rats. Bäck S, Necarsulmer J, Whitaker LR, Coke LM, Koivula P, Heathward EJ, Fortuno LV, Zhang Y, Yeh CG, Baldwin HA, Spencer MD, Mejias-Aponte CA, Pickel J, Hoffman AF, Spivak CD, Lupica C R, Underhill SM, Amara SG, Doanskyi A, Anttila JE, Airavaara M, Hope BT, Hamra FK, Richie CT, Harvey BK. Neuron. 2019 Apr 3; 102(1):105-119 PMID: 30792150.

Characterization of knockin mice at the Rosa26, Tac1 and Plekhg1 loci generated by homologous recombination in oocytes. Wu Y, Luna MJ, Bonilla LS, Ryba NJP, Pickel J. PLoS One. 2018 Feb 27;13(2):e0193129 PMID: 29485996.

Neural Precursor cells form integrated brain-like tissue when implanted into rat cerebrospinal fluid. Pothayee N, Maric D, Sharer K, Tao-Cheng JH, Calac A, Bouraund N, Pickel J, Dodd S, Koretsky A. Commun Biol. 2018 Aug 14;1:114. PMID: 27257630.

A transgenic rat for specifically inhibiting adult neurogenesis. Snyder J, Grigereit L, Russo A, Seib D, Brewer M, Pickel J, Cameron H. eNeuro. 2016 May 31;3(3). PMID: 27257630.

Adult hippocampal neurogenesis buffers stress responses and depressive behaviour. Snyder JS, Soumier A, Brewer M, Pickel J, Cameron HA. Nature. 2011 Aug 3;476(7361) PMID: 21814201.

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