Cindy Ehlers, PhD

Department of Neuroscience


Scripps Research Joint Appointments

Professor, Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine

Other Joint Appointments

Professor of Psychiatry (adjunct), University of California, San Diego, CA
Professor of Psychiatry (adjunct), University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Research Focus

Understanding genetic risk and protective factors for alcoholism in Native, African and Hispanic Americans.

Our laboratory has been studying natural variation in the genes that encode the structure of the enzymes that metabolize alcohol between ethnic groups and conducting genome-wide scans for other genes that influence the development of alcoholism. The goal of our studies is to identify candidate genes that encode for the neurophysiological processes that underlie drug dependence. Genetic information is combined with data on clinical course and environmental risk factors with the aim of: describing the etiology of substance dependence; and developing prevention and intervention programs appropriate to the different ethnic groups.

A second thrust of our laboratory involves the investigation of the toxic effects of alcohol on the developing fetal and adolescent brain.


Ph.D. (Physiology), University of California, Davis, 1977
B.S. (Physiology), University of California, Davis, 1973

Professional Experience

2013-2017 Professor, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience (MCN), Scripps Research
-2017 Professor (Joint Appointment), Molecular and Experimental Medicine (MEM), Scripps Research
2008-2012 Professor, Molecular and Integrative Neurosciences (MIND), Scripps Research
1989-2008 Associate Professor with tenure, Neurobiology, Scripps Research
1983-1989 Assistant Professor, Research Institute of Scripps Clinic
1979-1983 Senior Research Associate, Arthur Vining Davis Center for Behavioral Neurobiology, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
1977-1979 Postdoctoral Fellow, Brain Research Institute and Department of Anatomy, University of California, Los Angeles

Awards & Professional Activities

Citation for outstanding performance in Physiology, UC Davis
Giannini Foundation Fellow, UCLA
Klingenstein Foundation Fellow, The Salk Institute
Development Award, NIAAA
MacArthur Foundation Network on the Psychobiology of Depression
Thurman Award, UNC Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Merit Award (2007)
Wendy & Stanley Marsh Lectureship in Pharmacology and Neurochemistry of Substance Abuse/Addiction Disorders (2011)
Research Society on Alcoholism Distinguished Researcher Award (2014)
Research Society on Alcoholism Henri Begleiter Award for Excellence in Research (2020)

Other Professional Activities
Journal Associate Editorships: Reviewing Editor, Alcoholism, Clinical & Experimental Research, Associate Editor, Biological Psychiatry and Journal of Alcohol Studies
NIAAA Council, 2007-2010
Steering Committee member National Advisory Board on Underage Drinking 2004
Board of Directors, Research Society on Alcoholism, 1999-2002
Scientific Advisory Board for the Alcohol Research Center University of North Carolina, Skipper Bowles Center 1997
Scientific Advisory Board Alcohol Research Center Howard University 2004
Scientific Advisory Board Alcohol Research Center UC Berkeley CA 2004-present.
Member, program committee ACNP 2000-2003
Chairman, Awards Committee RSA, 2000
Member, Committee on Social Outcomes, San Diego Foundation 1998-2000.
Chair: Education & Training Committee, ACNP, 1998-1999
Consultant, Native American Graves protection and repatriation committee, culture and language retention committee, Luiseno nation-inter tribal coalition, 1998-present.

Journal Associate/Review Editorships:
Alcoholism: Clinical Experimental Research
Biological Psychiatry
Critical Reviews in Neurobiology
Depression and Anxiety

Fellow, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Research Society on Alcoholism
Society for Neuroscience
Society for Biological Psychiatry
International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society
International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism
International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology (scientific secretariat, 1997)
International Society for Twin Studies

Selected References

All Publications

Wehrenberg W, Ehlers CL. The effects of growth hormone releasing factor on the brain. Science 232:1271-1272, 1986. PMID: 3085220

Ehlers CL, Frank E, Kupfer DJ.  Social zeitgebers and biological rhythms: a unified approach to understanding the etiology of depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 45:948-952, 1988. PMID: 3048226


Kupfer DJ, Ehlers CL. Two roads to REM latency. Arch Gen Psychiat 46:945-948, 1989. PMID: 2679484

Ehlers CL, Havstad JW, Garfinkel A, Kupfer DJ. Non-linear analysis of EEG sleep states. Neuropsychopharmacol 5:167-176, 1991. PMID: 1755932

Ehlers CL, Kupfer DJ, Frank E, Monk TH. Biological rhythms and depression: the role of zeitgebers and zeitstorers. Depression 1:285-293, 1993.

Ehlers CL. Chaos and complexity: Can it help us to understand mood and behavior? Arch Gen Psychiatry 52:960-964, 1995. PMID: 7487344

Garcia-Andrade C, Wall TL, Ehlers CL. The firewater myth and response to alcohol in Mission Indians. Am J Psychiatry 154:983-987, 1997. PMID: 9210750

Ehlers CL, Kupfer DJ, Buysse DJ, Cluss PA, Miewald JM, Bisson EF, Grochocinski VJ. The Pittsburgh study of Normal Sleep: Focus on the relationship between waking and sleeping EEG spectral patterns. Electroencephalograph Clin Neurophysiol 106:199-205, 1998. PMID: 9743277

Ehlers CL, Havstad JW, Prichard D, Theiler J. Low doses of ethanol reduce evidence for nonlinear structure in brain activity.  J Neurosci 18:7474-7486, 1998. PMID: 9736666

Ehlers CL, Gilder DA, Phillips E, Wall TL, Feiler H, Wilhelmsen K. Genomic screen for loci associated with alcohol dependence in Mission Indians. Am J Med Genetics 129B: 110-15. 2004. PMID:15274051

Ehlers CL, Wall TL, Betancourt M, Gilder D. Clinical course of alcoholism in 243 Mission Indians. Am J Psychiatry,1(7):1204-1210, 2004. PMID: 15229052

Ehlers CL, Wilhelmsen KC. Genomic scan for alcohol craving in Mission Indians. Psychiatric Genet 15:71-75, 2005. PMID: 15722961

Ehlers CL, Slutske W, Gilder DA, Lau P, Wilhelmsen, KC. Age at first intoxication and alcohol use disorders in Southwest California Indians. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 30:1856-1865, 2006. PMID: 17067349

Ehlers CL, Wilhelmsen KC. Genomic screen for substance dependence and body mass index in Southwest California Indians. Genes, Brain Behavior 6(2):184-91, 2007. PMID: 16764678

Ehlers CL, Montane-Jaime K, Moore S, Shafe S, Joseph R, Carr L. Association of the ADH1B*3 allele with alcohol related phenotypes in Trinidad. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 31:216-220, 2007. PMID: 17250612

Ehlers CL, Slutske WS, Lind PA, Wilhelmsen KC. Association between single nucleotide polymorphisms in the cannabinoid receptor gene (CNR1) and impulsivity in Southwest California Indians. Twin Res. Hum Genet. 10(6): 805-11, 2007. PMID: 18179391

Ehlers CL, Gizer IR, Gilder DA, Ellingson JM, Yehuda R. Measuring historical trauma in an American Indian community sample: Contributions of substance dependence, affective disorder, conduct disorder and PTSD Drug Alc. Dep, Nov 1. 133(1): 180-187, 2013. PMID: 23791028; PMC: 3810370

Ehlers CL, Gizer IR. Evidence for a genetic component for substance dependence in Native Americans. Am J of Psychiatry 170(2): 154-164, 2013. PMID: 23377636; PMC:3603686


Peng Q, Ehlers CL. Long tracks of homozygosity predict the severity of alcohol use disorders in an American Indian population. Mol Psychiatry 2021 Jan 4. doi: 10.1038/s41380-020-00989-9. PMID: 33398086; PMC: 8254832

Ehlers CL, Wills DN, Karriker-Jaffe KM, Gilder DA, Phillips E, Bernert RA. Delta event-related oscillations are related to a history of extreme binge drinking in adolescence and lifetime suicide risk. Behav Sci (Basel).  2020 Oct 7;10(10):154. PMID: 33036364; PMC: 7599813.

Peng Q, Bizon C, Gizer IR, Wilhelmsen KC, Ehlers CL. Genetic Loci for Alcohol-Related Life Events and Substance-Induced Affective “Dark-Side” Symptoms.  Translational Psychiatry 2019 Feb 4;9(1):71. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0397-6. PMID: 30718457; PMC: 6362044

Ehlers CL, Gilder DA, Gizer IR, Wilhelmsen K. Indexing the “dark side of addiction”: Substance-induced affective symptoms and alcohol use disorders. Addiction 2018 Aug 28. doi: 10.1111/add.14431. PMID: 30153346; PMC: 6320236

Moore RS, Gilder DA, Grube JW, Lee JP, Geisler JA, Friese B, Calac DJ, Finan LJ,  Ehlers CL. Prevention of Underage Drinking on California Indian Reservations using Individual- and Community-Level Approaches. American Journal of Public Health 2018 Aug; 108(8):1035-1041doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2018.304447. PMID: 29927644; PMC: 6050833.