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Elisabeth Van Bockstaele

Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD

Professor of Pharmacology & Physiology; Chief Strategy Officer; Senior Vice President for Graduate and Online Education; Dean, Graduate College

Department: Pharmacology & Physiology


  • BA in Biology - Sarah Lawrence College (1985)
  • PhD and MS in Neurobiology - New York University (1991)

Awards & Honors

  • Mentorship Award, Awarded by Drexel Graduate Student Association (2018)
  • The Frederic Rieders Faculty Award in Graduate Education, College of Graduate Studies, Thomas Jefferson University (2012)
  • The Faculty Award in Neuroscience, Graduate, Program in Neuroscience, Selected and awarded by Jefferson Neuroscience graduate students (2009)
  • The Educator Award, Philadelphia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience (2007)
  • The A.E. Bennett Award, Society for Biological Psychiatry (1999)
  • The Daniel Freedman Award for Best Basic Science Research (Honorable Mention), National Association for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), New York, NY (1998)
  • FIRST Award, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse (1994-99)

Dr. Van Bockstaele is the founding dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies. She also serves as senior vice president for graduate and online education and dean of the Graduate College at Drexel. She comes to the College of Medicine from Thomas Jefferson University where she was a tenured professor in the Department of Neuroscience, as well as the founding director of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience in the Jefferson Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. For several years she was vice chair for research in the Department of Neurological Surgery of Jefferson Medical College, and she has held numerous leadership roles in graduate and medical school courses, including coordinating a dozen graduate courses.

The graduate neuroscience program Van Bockstaele founded at Jefferson was the first interdisciplinary, non–department-based graduate program at the University. She oversaw the development of a curriculum that bridges basic neuroscience and clinical neuroscience, and engaged clinicians in didactic coursework and as mentors of the graduate students. She has a demonstrated commitment to providing a mentoring infrastructure that supports graduate students and fellows in their pursuit of research funding, and several of her own recent pre-doctoral students have obtained NIH pre-doctoral fellowships.

Van Bockstaele's research has been consistently funded throughout her career, beginning in 1994 when she was an assistant professor of neuroscience at Cornell University Medical College. She serves as principal investigator on two R01 grants and as PI on subcontracts for three other R01 grants with investigators at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Temple University. She recently completed a project for a P20 Center Grant with investigators at the University of Pennsylvania. Data collected in her laboratory has been published in over 160 peer-reviewed papers, reviews, and book chapters, and more than 80 symposium proceedings. She has been a member of, or chaired, several fellowship study sections for the National Institutes of Health, as well as center grant and program project reviews, and recently completed service as chair of a standing NIH study section, Neuroimmunology, Neuroendocrinology, Rhythms and Sleep.

Van Bockstaele has held a variety of leadership positions in the Society for Neuroscience, the world's largest organization of scientists devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. She chaired the Membership and Chapters Committee, where she oversaw the development of a five-year strategic plan to enhance member benefits and growth. She was an active member in the Professional Development Working Group where she has organized annual symposia focused on careers beyond academia. She was a founding member of the Society's Committee on Neuroscience Education and Training. Locally, she has served as past president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, and previously served as secretary of the Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs.

Van Bockstaele received her PhD and master's degrees in neurobiology from New York University, with a minor in biochemistry and molecular biology, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Cornell University Medical College before joining the faculty there. She is a 2010 graduate of Drexel University College of Medicine's Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® program for women.

Research Overview

Research in the Van Bockstaele Laboratory was aimed at understanding the role of monoaminergic systems in stress-related illness and substance abuse disorders. We discovered important cellular adaptations in noradrenergic and serotonergic circuits following exposure to abused substances (e.g. opiates, cannabinoids, alcohol and psychostimulants) that have advanced our understanding of the pathophysiology of addiction.

Our laboratory unveiled the complex circuitry by which stress-related neuropeptides and endogenous opioids co-regulate activity of the locus coeruleus (LC)-norepinephrine (NE) system and how chronic morphine, or stress, disturbs this regulation. Stress has been implicated as a risk factor in vulnerability to the initiation and maintenance of opiate abuse and is thought to play an important role in relapse in subjects with a history of abuse. Conversely, chronic opiate use and withdrawal are stressors and can potentially predispose individuals to stress-related psychiatric disorders. Because the interaction of opiates with stress response systems has potentially widespread clinical consequences, our laboratory worked to define how specific substrates of the stress response and endogenous opioid systems interact and the specific points at which stress circuits and endogenous opioid systems intersect.

Another focus of the laboratory was aimed at understanding how norepinephrine (NE) regulates amyloid beta (Aβ), a protein that aggregates to form senile plaques, a primary component of Alzheimer's disease (AD) pathology. As one of the most severely affected brain regions in AD, we investigated how stress-induced dysregulation of the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC), a brain region that supplies NE to the entire neuraxis results in aberrant accumulation of Aβ and contributes to disease progression.

The technical repertoire in the laboratory includes neuroanatomical circuit-tracing studies, ultrastructural characterization of transmitters, peptides and receptors as well as biochemical, molecular, pharmacological and behavioral strategies. Our research involved mostly preclinical investigation but also included the exploration of biomarkers in clinical investigations.

CRF-d NET image from the Van Bockstaele Lab.

Research Interests

Role of monoaminergic systems in stress-related illness and substance abuse disorders


For a complete list of publications, please visit

"Alcohol-induced dysregulation of stress-related circuitry: The search for novel targets and implications for interventions across the sexes"
Retson TA, Sterling RC, Van Bockstaele EJ
Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry. 2016; 65:252-9

"Repeated administration of a synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist differentially affects cortical and accumbal neuronal morphology in adolescent and adult rats"
Carvalho AF, Reyes BA, Ramalhosa F, Sousa N, Van Bockstaele EJ
Brain structure & function. 2016; 221(1):407-19

"Amygdalar neuronal plasticity and the interactions of alcohol, sex, and stress"
Retson TA, Hoek JB, Sterling RC, Van Bockstaele EJ
Brain structure & function. 2015; 220(6):3211-32

"Ultrastructural evidence for synaptic contacts between cortical noradrenergic afferents and endocannabinoid-synthesizing post-synaptic neurons"
Reyes BA, Heldt NA, Mackie K, Van Bockstaele EJ
Neuroscience. 2015; 303:323-37

"Chronic alcohol exposure differentially affects activation of female locus coeruleus neurons and the subcellular distribution of corticotropin releasing factor receptors"
Retson TA, Reyes BA, Van Bockstaele EJ
Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry. 2015; 56:66-74

"Targeting the Neuropeptide Y System in Stress-related Psychiatric Disorders"
Enman NM, Sabban EL, McGonigle P, Van Bockstaele EJ
Neurobiology of stress. 2015; 1:33-43

"Endogenous Opioids: The Downside of Opposing Stress"
Valentino RJ, Van Bockstaele E
Neurobiology of stress. 2015; 1:23-32

"Drug discovery strategies that focus on the endocannabinoid signaling system in psychiatric disease"
Wyrofsky R, McGonigle P, Van Bockstaele EJ
Expert opinion on drug discovery. 2015; 10(1):17-36

"Direct targeting of peptidergic amygdalar neurons by noradrenergic afferents: linking stress-integrative circuitry"
Kravets JL, Reyes BA, Unterwald EM, Van Bockstaele EJ
Brain structure & function. 2015; 220(1):541-58

"Psychological and physiological stress negatively impacts early engagement and retention of opioid-dependent individuals on methadone maintenance"
Jaremko KM, Sterling RC, Van Bockstaele EJ
Journal of substance abuse treatment. 2015; 48(1):117-27

Contact Information

Drexel University
3141 Chestnut Street
Main Building, Suite 301
Philadelphia, PA 19104