My primary activity is to lead a laboratory-based research program. My research interests include understanding the network architecture and development of the brain's serotonin system and how it malfunctions in different disease states. Serotonin neurotransmission is associated with many psychological and behavioral disorders, yet it remains poorly understood how serotonin neurotransmission goes-wrong to generate distinct disorders. Our work spans from the level of channels and synaptic architecture to understanding the role of feedback inhibition and the global organization of serotonin neurons in the brain. Disorders of particular interest include depression, drug addiction, autism and SIDS.


Dr. Commons received her PhD at Cornell University Medical College. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University, and a research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is currently an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.

For a list of Kathryn Commons’ publications on PubMed, click here.

Researcher Services

Researcher Areas

  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Drug addiction
  • Neurobiology
  • SIDS
  • Serotonin

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Publications powered by Harvard Catalyst Profiles

  1. Donnelly WT, Haynes RL, Commons KG, Erickson DJ, Panzini CM, Xia L, Han QJ, Leiter JC. Prenatal intermittent hypoxia sensitizes the laryngeal chemoreflex, blocks serotoninergic shortening of the reflex, and reduces 5-HT3 receptor binding in the NTS in anesthetized rat pups. Exp Neurol. 2019 Dec 27; 326:113166. View abstract
  2. Hatini PG, Commons KG. Serotonin abnormalities in Dravet syndrome mice before and after the age of seizure onset. Brain Res. 2019 Dec 01; 1724:146399. View abstract
  3. Okaty BW, Commons KG, Dymecki SM. Embracing diversity in the 5-HT neuronal system. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2019 Jul; 20(7):397-424. View abstract
  4. Commons KG, Linnros SE. Delayed Antidepressant Efficacy and the Desensitization Hypothesis. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2019 07 17; 10(7):3048-3052. View abstract
  5. Ehlinger DG, Commons KG. Cav1.2?L-type calcium channels regulate stress coping behavior via serotonin neurons. Neuropharmacology. 2019 01; 144:282-290. View abstract
  6. Babb JA, Linnros SE, Commons KG. Evidence for intact 5-HT1A receptor-mediated feedback inhibition following sustained antidepressant treatment in a rat model of depression. Neuropharmacology. 2018 10; 141:139-147. View abstract
  7. Panzini CM, Ehlinger DG, Alchahin AM, Guo Y, Commons KG. 16p11.2 deletion syndrome mice perseverate with active coping response to acute stress - rescue by blocking 5-HT2A receptors. J Neurochem. 2017 12; 143(6):708-721. View abstract
  8. Grissom NM, McKee SE, Schoch H, Bowman N, Havekes R, O'Brien WT, Mahrt E, Siegel S, Commons K, Portfors C, Nickl-Jockschat T, Reyes TM, Abel T. Male-specific deficits in natural reward learning in a mouse model of neurodevelopmental disorders. Mol Psychiatry. 2018 03; 23(3):544-555. View abstract
  9. Ehlinger DG, Commons KG. Altered Cav1.2 function in the Timothy syndrome mouse model produces ascending serotonergic abnormalities. Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Oct; 46(8):2416-2425. View abstract
  10. Tenpenny RC, Commons KG. What Gene Mutations Affect Serotonin in Mice? ACS Chem Neurosci. 2017 05 17; 8(5):987-995. View abstract
  11. Commons KG, Cholanians AB, Babb JA, Ehlinger DG. The Rodent Forced Swim Test Measures Stress-Coping Strategy, Not Depression-like Behavior. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2017 05 17; 8(5):955-960. View abstract
  12. Guo YP, Commons KG. Serotonin neuron abnormalities in the BTBR mouse model of autism. Autism Res. 2017 Jan; 10(1):66-77. View abstract
  13. Commons KG. Ascending serotonin neuron diversity under two umbrellas. Brain Struct Funct. 2016 09; 221(7):3347-60. View abstract
  14. Darnall RA, Schneider RW, Tobia CM, Commons KG. Eliminating medullary 5-HT neurons delays arousal and decreases the respiratory response to repeated episodes of hypoxia in neonatal rat pups. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2016 Mar 01; 120(5):514-25. View abstract
  15. Commons KG. Two major network domains in the dorsal raphe nucleus. J Comp Neurol. 2015 Jul 01; 523(10):1488-504. View abstract
  16. Bajic D, Soiza-Reilly M, Spalding AL, Berde CB, Commons KG. Endogenous cholinergic neurotransmission contributes to behavioral sensitization to morphine. PLoS One. 2015; 10(2):e0117601. View abstract
  17. Soiza-Reilly M, Goodfellow NM, Lambe EK, Commons KG. Enhanced 5-HT1A receptor-dependent feedback control over dorsal raphe serotonin neurons in the SERT knockout mouse. Neuropharmacology. 2015 Feb; 89:185-92. View abstract
  18. Soiza-Reilly M, Commons KG. Unraveling the architecture of the dorsal raphe synaptic neuropil using high-resolution neuroanatomy. Front Neural Circuits. 2014; 8:105. View abstract
  19. Corcoran AE, Commons KG, Wu Y, Smith JC, Harris MB, Richerson GB. Dual effects of 5-HT(1a) receptor activation on breathing in neonatal mice. J Neurosci. 2014 Jan 01; 34(1):51-9. View abstract
  20. Soiza-Reilly M, Anderson WB, Vaughan CW, Commons KG. Presynaptic gating of excitation in the dorsal raphe nucleus by GABA. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Sep 24; 110(39):15800-5. View abstract
  21. Massey CA, Kim G, Corcoran AE, Haynes RL, Paterson DS, Cummings KJ, Dymecki SM, Richerson GB, Nattie EE, Kinney HC, Commons KG. Development of brainstem 5-HT1A receptor-binding sites in serotonin-deficient mice. J Neurochem. 2013 Sep; 126(6):749-57. View abstract
  22. Bajic D, Commons KG, Soriano SG. Morphine-enhanced apoptosis in selective brain regions of neonatal rats. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2013 Jun; 31(4):258-66. View abstract
  23. Bang SJ, Commons KG. Forebrain GABAergic projections from the dorsal raphe nucleus identified by using GAD67-GFP knock-in mice. J Comp Neurol. 2012 Dec 15; 520(18):4157-67. View abstract
  24. Colgan LA, Cavolo SL, Commons KG, Levitan ES. Action potential-independent and pharmacologically unique vesicular serotonin release from dendrites. J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 07; 32(45):15737-46. View abstract
  25. Cummings KJ, Commons KG, Trachtenberg FL, Li A, Kinney HC, Nattie EE. Caffeine improves the ability of serotonin-deficient (Pet-1-/-) mice to survive episodic asphyxia. Pediatr Res. 2013 Jan; 73(1):38-45. View abstract
  26. Bajic D, Berde CB, Commons KG. Periaqueductal gray neuroplasticity following chronic morphine varies with age: role of oxidative stress. Neuroscience. 2012 Dec 13; 226:165-77. View abstract
  27. Templin JS, Bang SJ, Soiza-Reilly M, Berde CB, Commons KG. Patterned expression of ion channel genes in mouse dorsal raphe nucleus determined with the Allen Mouse Brain Atlas. Brain Res. 2012 May 31; 1457:1-12. View abstract
  28. Soiza-Reilly M, Commons KG. Quantitative analysis of glutamatergic innervation of the mouse dorsal raphe nucleus using array tomography. J Comp Neurol. 2011 Dec 15; 519(18):3802-14. View abstract
  29. Bang SJ, Jensen P, Dymecki SM, Commons KG. Projections and interconnections of genetically defined serotonin neurons in mice. Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Jan; 35(1):85-96. View abstract
  30. Cummings KJ, Commons KG, Hewitt JC, Daubenspeck JA, Li A, Kinney HC, Nattie EE. Failed heart rate recovery at a critical age in 5-HT-deficient mice exposed to episodic anoxia: implications for SIDS. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Sep; 111(3):825-33. View abstract
  31. Commons KG. Central serotonergic system. J Chem Neuroanat. 2011 Jul; 41(4):181. View abstract
  32. Soiza-Reilly M, Commons KG. Glutamatergic drive of the dorsal raphe nucleus. J Chem Neuroanat. 2011 Jul; 41(4):247-55. View abstract
  33. Sperling R, Commons KG. Shifting topographic activation and 5-HT1A receptor-mediated inhibition of dorsal raphe serotonin neurons produced by nicotine exposure and withdrawal. Eur J Neurosci. 2011 May; 33(10):1866-75. View abstract
  34. Bang SJ, Commons KG. Age-dependent effects of initial exposure to nicotine on serotonin neurons. Neuroscience. 2011 Apr 14; 179:1-8. View abstract
  35. Penatti EM, Barina AE, Raju S, Li A, Kinney HC, Commons KG, Nattie EE. Maternal dietary tryptophan deficiency alters cardiorespiratory control in rat pups. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Feb; 110(2):318-28. View abstract
  36. Bajic D, Commons KG. Acute noxious stimulation modifies morphine effect in serotonergic but not dopaminergic midbrain areas. Neuroscience. 2010 Mar 17; 166(2):720-9. View abstract
  37. Commons KG. Neuronal pathways linking substance P to drug addiction and stress. Brain Res. 2010 Feb 16; 1314:175-82. View abstract
  38. Bajic D, Commons KG. Visualizing acute pain-morphine interaction in descending monoamine nuclei with Fos. Brain Res. 2010 Jan 08; 1306:29-38. View abstract
  39. Commons KG, Serock MR. Coincidence of neurokinin 1 receptor with the vesicular glutamate transporter 3 (VGLUT3) in the rat forebrain. Neurosci Lett. 2009 Oct 30; 464(3):188-92. View abstract
  40. Commons KG. Locally collateralizing glutamate neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus responsive to substance P contain vesicular glutamate transporter 3 (VGLUT3). J Chem Neuroanat. 2009 Dec; 38(4):273-81. View abstract
  41. Cummings KJ, Commons KG, Fan KC, Li A, Nattie EE. Severe spontaneous bradycardia associated with respiratory disruptions in rat pups with fewer brain stem 5-HT neurons. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 Jun; 296(6):R1783-96. View abstract
  42. Commons KG. Evidence for topographically organized endogenous 5-HT-1A receptor-dependent feedback inhibition of the ascending serotonin system. Eur J Neurosci. 2008 May; 27(10):2611-8. View abstract
  43. Commons KG. Alpha4 containing nicotinic receptors are positioned to mediate postsynaptic effects on 5-HT neurons in the rat dorsal raphe nucleus. Neuroscience. 2008 May 15; 153(3):851-9. View abstract
  44. Reyes BA, Johnson AD, Glaser JD, Commons KG, Van Bockstaele EJ. Dynorphin-containing axons directly innervate noradrenergic neurons in the rat nucleus locus coeruleus. Neuroscience. 2007 Mar 30; 145(3):1077-86. View abstract
  45. Evans JM, Bey V, Burkey AR, Commons KG. Organization of endogenous opioids in the rostral agranular insular cortex of the rat. J Comp Neurol. 2007 Jan 20; 500(3):530-41. View abstract
  46. Cucchiaro G, Chaijale N, Commons KG. The locus coeruleus nucleus as a site of action of the antinociceptive and behavioral effects of the nicotinic receptor agonist, epibatidine. Neuropharmacology. 2006 Jun; 50(7):769-76. View abstract
  47. Commons KG, Beck SG, Bey VW. Two populations of glutamatergic axons in the rat dorsal raphe nucleus defined by the vesicular glutamate transporters 1 and 2. Eur J Neurosci. 2005 Mar; 21(6):1577-86. View abstract
  48. Valentino RJ, Commons KG. Peptides that fine-tune the serotonin system. Neuropeptides. 2005 Feb; 39(1):1-8. View abstract
  49. Cucchiaro G, Chaijale N, Commons KG. The dorsal raphe nucleus as a site of action of the antinociceptive and behavioral effects of the alpha4 nicotinic receptor agonist epibatidine. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2005 Apr; 313(1):389-94. View abstract
  50. Wang X, Douglas SD, Commons KG, Pleasure DE, Lai J, Ho C, Bannerman P, Williams M, Ho W. A non-peptide substance P antagonist (CP-96,345) inhibits morphine-induced NF-kappa B promoter activation in human NT2-N neurons. J Neurosci Res. 2004 Feb 15; 75(4):544-53. View abstract
  51. Commons KG. Translocation of presynaptic delta opioid receptors in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray after swim stress. J Comp Neurol. 2003 Sep 15; 464(2):197-207. View abstract
  52. Cucchiaro G, Commons KG. Alpha 4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit links cholinergic to brainstem monoaminergic neurotransmission. Synapse. 2003 Sep 01; 49(3):195-205. View abstract
  53. Valentino RJ, Bey V, Pernar L, Commons KG. Substance P Acts through local circuits within the rat dorsal raphe nucleus to alter serotonergic neuronal activity. J Neurosci. 2003 Aug 06; 23(18):7155-9. View abstract
  54. Roche M, Commons KG, Peoples A, Valentino RJ. Circuitry underlying regulation of the serotonergic system by swim stress. J Neurosci. 2003 Feb 01; 23(3):970-7. View abstract
  55. Commons KG, Connolley KR, Valentino RJ. A neurochemically distinct dorsal raphe-limbic circuit with a potential role in affective disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Feb; 28(2):206-15. View abstract
  56. Commons KG, Valentino RJ. Cellular basis for the effects of substance P in the periaqueductal gray and dorsal raphe nucleus. J Comp Neurol. 2002 May 20; 447(1):82-97. View abstract
  57. Kow LM, Commons KG, Ogawa S, Pfaff DW. Potentiation of the excitatory action of NMDA in ventrolateral periaqueductal gray by the mu-opioid receptor agonist, DAMGO. Brain Res. 2002 May 10; 935(1-2):87-102. View abstract
  58. Commons KG, Beck SG, Rudoy C, Van Bockstaele EJ. Anatomical evidence for presynaptic modulation by the delta opioid receptor in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray of the rat. J Comp Neurol. 2001 Feb 05; 430(2):200-8. View abstract
  59. Van Bockstaele EJ, Commons KG. Internalization of mu-opioid receptors produced by etorphine in the rat locus coeruleus. Neuroscience. 2001; 108(3):467-77. View abstract
  60. Commons KG, Pfaff DW. Ultrastructural evidence for enkephalin mediated disinhibition in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. J Chem Neuroanat. 2001 Jan; 21(1):53-62. View abstract
  61. Commons KG, Aicher SA, Kow LM, Pfaff DW. Presynaptic and postsynaptic relations of mu-opioid receptors to gamma-aminobutyric acid-immunoreactive and medullary-projecting periaqueductal gray neurons. J Comp Neurol. 2000 Apr 17; 419(4):532-42. View abstract
  62. Van Bockstaele EJ, Saunders A, Commons KG, Liu XB, Peoples J. Evidence for coexistence of enkephalin and glutamate in axon terminals and cellular sites for functional interactions of their receptors in the rat locus coeruleus. J Comp Neurol. 2000 Jan 31; 417(1):103-14. View abstract
  63. Commons KG, van Bockstaele EJ, Pfaff DW. Frequent colocalization of mu opioid and NMDA-type glutamate receptors at postsynaptic sites in periaqueductal gray neurons. J Comp Neurol. 1999 Jun 14; 408(4):549-59. View abstract
  64. Commons KG, Kow LM, Milner TA, Pfaff DW. In the ventromedial nucleus of the rat hypothalamus, GABA-immunolabeled neurons are abundant and are innervated by both enkephalin- and GABA-immunolabeled axon terminals. Brain Res. 1999 Jan 16; 816(1):58-67. View abstract
  65. van Bockstaele EJ, Commons K, Pickel VM. Delta-opioid receptor is present in presynaptic axon terminals in the rat nucleus locus coeruleus: relationships with methionine5-enkephalin. J Comp Neurol. 1997 Dec 01; 388(4):575-86. View abstract
  66. Commons KG, Milner TA. Localization of delta opioid receptor immunoreactivity in interneurons and pyramidal cells in the rat hippocampus. J Comp Neurol. 1997 May 12; 381(3):373-87. View abstract
  67. Commons KG, Milner TA. Cellular and subcellular localization of delta opioid receptor immunoreactivity in the rat dentate gyrus. Brain Res. 1996 Nov 04; 738(2):181-95. View abstract
  68. Commons KG, Milner TA. Ultrastructural relationships between leu-enkephalin- and GABA-containing neurons differ within the hippocampal formation. Brain Res. 1996 Jun 10; 724(1):1-15. View abstract
  69. Commons KG, Milner TA. Ultrastructural heterogeneity of enkephalin-containing terminals in the rat hippocampal formation. J Comp Neurol. 1995 Jul 31; 358(3):324-42. View abstract