Balapal Lab
Basavaraj Balapal, Ph.D.
Head of Lab

Research Scientist, Center for Dementia Research

Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry
NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Balapal NYU Page

Faculty at Columbia University Medical Center


Balapal Lab

The central focus of Dr. Basavaraj Balapal’s laboratory is to understand the function of endocannabinoid systems and epigenetics in synaptic plasticity and learning and memory disorders. While the main focus of the lab is on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), our studies span many different drug (marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids or Spice) induced synaptic disorders.

Research in the Balapal lab is focused on the function of lipid-derived messengers, with particular emphasis on the endogenous cannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. Current research efforts converge on three areas: endocannabinoids signaling; physiological roles of the endogenous cannabinoid system during early brain development; understanding the role of endogenous cannabinoid system in synaptic plasticity and learning and memory disorders.

Hippocampal slices and primary neural cell cultures and state-of-the-art double patch-clamp and slices electrophysiology is used to understand the physiological role of endocannabinoids; liquid chromatography/mass-spectrometry is used to investigate the formation and deactivation of anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol in brain cells. Western blot and molecular biology approaches are employed to characterize the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes. The potential pharmacological agents that interfere with various aspects of endogenous cannabinoid function, and their therapeutic potential is explored in vitro and in vivo for many learning and memory disorders.

Dr. Balapal also investigates marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids and endocannabinoid compounds that stimulate the CB1 cannabinoid receptor and regulate signal transduction pathways in the brain hippocampus. The lab studies the endocannabinoids and their CB1 receptor signaling in the regulation of synaptic plasticity and learning and memory disorders. In addition, the lab investigates epigenetic modifications such as histone associated DNA methylation and histone protein acetylation and methylation of many target genes including CB1 receptor gene and their transcriptional regulation in many cognitive disorders.

Research Interests

My laboratory studies the neurobiological underpinnings through which early environmental experiences such as alcohol, stress, cannabinoids influence behaviors. This research is translationally inspired by the robust clinical studies that child exposure to environmental insults such as alcohol abuse or cannabinoid or stress by a pregnant mother increases the lifetime risk of cognitive impairments, addiction, and psychiatric disorders by 2-5 -fold. To understand the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for this latent behavioral vulnerability, we integrate a range of technical approaches, including rodent behavior, electrophysiology, epigenetics, in vivo cell-specific gene manipulation, and high-resolution imaging. By understanding how early life insult affects brain development at multiple levels – epigenetic and molecular, cells, circuits, and behavior – we ultimately hope to apply such knowledge in the direction of innovative therapies relevant to individuals who experience childhood environmental insults. An essential component of this research effort is uncovering and prioritizing molecular targets for medication development to prevent and treat fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), alcohol use disorders (AUD), and other CNS disorders. In addition, my collaborators and I validate the functional significance of the most promising targets in many developmental and neurodegenarative animal models using a combination of approaches that include epigenetics, electrophysiology, and behavioral pharmacology.


B.S. (Biochemistry), University of Mysore, Karnataka, India
M.S. (Biochemistry), University Of Mysore, Karnataka, India
Ph.D. (Biochemistry), University of Mysore, Karnataka, India
Postdoctoral Training
Genetic Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India
Neuroscience, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY
Neuroscience, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY

Awards and Honors

2004-2009            Recipient of a Career Award from NIH (KO1 AA014411)
1992-1994              Senior Research Fellowship from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India
1988-1992              Lady Tata memorial Research fellowship, Lady tata Memorial Trust, Bombay, India