Kimberly Nixon, Ph.D.

Dr. Kimberly Nixon headshot photo

Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology
James T. Doluisio Centennial Fellow

Dr. Kimberly Nixon is Professor and James T. Doluisio Fellow of Pharmacology and Toxicology. She received a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Texas at Austin under the mentorship of the late Abram Amsel, Ph.D. with co-mentorship from Steven W. Leslie, Ph.D. She went on to the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Fulton Crews, Ph.D. While at UNC, she was the first to discover the effect of alcohol on adult neurogenesis, an area where her lab continues to lead the field today. Prior to returning to the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, Dr. Nixon rose through the ranks to full professor at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Dr. Nixon’s lab utilizes novel approaches to understand the causes and consequences of alcohol neuropathology, focused primarily on adult neural stem cells and their contribution to alcohol-induced damage and recovery from alcohol use disorders (alcoholism), as well as the role microglia play in the development of AUDs in adolescence.  Her work has received numerous awards including a 2003 Enoch Gordis Research Recognition Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism, the 2008 Young Investigator Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism and a 2009 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awarded by President Barack Obama.

Projects in the Nixon lab are clustered under three major lines of work:

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly called alcoholism, is a growing public health problem though pharmacological treatments are not widely successful.  People drink to excess for a variety of reasons necessitating a variety of approaches for successful treatment. The majority of pharmacological treatments for AUDs target motivational behaviors of drug use, but targeting this aspect of abuse/addiction alone has not been widely successful. We continue to   take the novel approach of examining neuroprotective agents that promote plasticity to repair or protect the brain from alcohol-induced damage.

One region of alcohol neurotoxicity is in behavioral control circuitry which includes the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. We hypothesize that damage to this circuit essentially releases a brake on the dysfunctional, compulsive drive of the mesolimbic dopamine system.

Thus, the Nixon Lab has focused on two mechanistic areas relevant to hippocampal structure and function: (1) the role of adult neural stem cells in alcoholic neuropathology and recovery in abstinence and (2) the role microglia play in the adolescent’s enhanced susceptibility to developing an alcohol use disorder.

Our third area encompasses our collaborative drug discovery work, which has focused heavily on novel neuroprotectants but also target-agnostic screening of novel compounds and natural products to treat alcohol and nicotine co-abuse.

Approaches utilize novel or state-of-the-art histological, biochemical and behavioral techniques in ex vivo, in vitro and in vivo models of AUDs.

Hayes, D.M., Geil Nickell, C.R., Chen, K.Y., Heath, M.M., McClain, J.A., Deeny, M.A., & Nixon, K. (2018). Activation of neural stem cells from quiescence drives reactive hippocampal neurogenesis after alcohol dependence. Neuropharmacology, 133: 276-288. PMC – In Process

Geil Nickell C.R., Peng, H., Hayes D.M., Chen, K. McClain J.A., & Nixon K. (2017). Type 2 neural progenitor cell activation drives reactive neurogenesis after binge-like alcohol exposure in adolescent, male rats. Invited submission for special issue on adolescence. Frontiers in Psychiatry 8:283. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00283 PMC5736541.

Peng, H., Nickell, C.R.G., Chen, K.Y., McClain, J.A., & Nixon K. (2017). Increased expression of M1 and M2 phenotypic markers in isolated microglia after four-day binge alcohol exposure in male rats. Alcohol 62: 29 – 40. PMC5695703.

McClain, J.A., Morris, S.A. & Nixon, K. (2014). Ectopic hippocampal neurogenesis in adolescent rats following alcohol dependenceAddiction Biology, 19: 687-99. PMC23844726

Marshall, S.A., McClain, J.A., Kelso, M.L., Hopkins, D.M., Pauly, J.R. & Nixon, K. (2013).  Microglial activation is not equivalent to neuroinflammation: the importance of microglia phenotype in alcohol-induced neurodegenerationNeurobiology of Disease, 54, 239-251.  PMC3629000

McClain, J.A., Hayes, D.M., Morris, S.A. & Nixon, K. (2011).  Adolescent binge alcohol exposure alters hippocampal progenitor cell proliferation in rats: Effects on cell cycle kinetics. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 519, 2697-2710. PMC3454493

McClain, J.A., Morris, S.A., Deeny, M.A., Marshall, S.A., Hayes, D.M., Kiser, Z.M. & Nixon, K. (2011).  Adolescent binge alcohol exposure induces long-lasting partial activation of microglia. Brain Behavior and Immunity, 25, S120–S128. PMC3098298

Morris, S.A., Eaves, D.W., Smith, A.R. & Nixon, K. (2010). Inhibition of adult neurogenesis – a mechanism of hippocampal neurodegeneration in an adolescent alcohol abuse model. Hippocampus 20, 596-607. PMC2861155

Nixon, K., Kim, D.H., Potts, E.N., He, J. & Crews, F.T. (2008). Distinct cell proliferation events during abstinence after alcohol dependence: microglia proliferation precedes neurogenesis.

Nixon, K. & Crews, F.T. (2004).  Temporally specific burst in cell proliferation increases hippocampal neurogenesis in protracted abstinence from alcohol.  The Journal of Neuroscience 24, 9714-9722.

Nixon, K. & Crews, F.T. (2002).  Binge alcohol exposure decreases neurogenesis in adult rat hippocampus.  Journal of Neurochemistry 83, 1087-1093.


Check out our new book chapter:

Olsufka, R. Peng, H. Newton, J. & Nixon, K. (2018). Alcohol Effects on Adult Neural Stem Cells – A Novel Mechanism of Neurotoxicity and Recovery in Alcohol Use Disorders.  Invited submission for T. Rasmussen (Ed.) Stem Cells in Birth Defects Research and Developmental Toxicology. John Wiley and Sons (New York).

Group photo of Dr. Kim Nixon with lab members

Dr. Kim Nixon – PI

Postdoctoral Fellows:

Jennifer Melbourne Profile Pic

Dr. Jennifer Melbourne
(Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago)


Graduate students:

Steven Guerin profile photo

Steven Guerin
(University of New Mexico)



Ryan Thompson profile photo

Ryan Thompson
(University of Kentucky)



Lab Manager:


Chinchu Anasooya Shaji

Chinchusha Anasooya Shaji
(Anna University, India)




Huy Dang profile photo

Huy Dang (Dartmouth College)


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Campus location:
BME 6.116A