Photo of Rajeev I. Desai, PhD

Rajeev I. Desai, PhD

McLean Hospital Title
  • Director, Integrative Neurochemistry Laboratory

Harvard Medical School Title
  • Assistant Professor of Psychiatry


Rajeev I. Desai, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Integrative Neurochemistry Laboratory at McLean Hospital. Dr. Desai received his PhD in psychology/behavioral pharmacology at the University of Birmingham, U.K. He completed post-doctoral fellowships in psychobiology under the direction of Dr. Jonathan L. Katz at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and pharmacology under the direction of Dr. Jack Bergman at McLean Hospital.

Dr. Desai’s research program is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and biopharmaceutical industry. At McLean Hospital, Dr. Desai has served on various committees, including the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. He has also held the position of McLean Hospital Neuroscience Seminar Series coordinator.

Research Focus:

Dr. Desai’s Integrative Neurochemistry Laboratory examines how drugs of abuse and environmental stressors alter brain neurochemical mechanisms to impact behavior.

Through this work, Dr. Desai evaluates novel treatment strategies that may help manage drug addiction, as well as comorbidity with other neuropsychiatry conditions. He and his colleagues have characterized the association between changes in brain neurochemistry and behavioral actions of stimulants, opioids, and cannabinoids.

In recent years, Dr. Desai developed methods combining microdialysis with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis to map real-time changes in neurochemical signatures in the brain. These signatures may be induced by exposure to drugs of abuse, environmental stressors, and neuropsychiatric conditions. Dr. Desai and his team use this approach to chart how stimulants, opioids, and cannabinoids alter neurochemistry in targeted brain regions (e.g., reward circuit) that may be involved in addiction-related behavioral actions.

Over the last decade, Dr. Desai and his team have evaluated the potential of new pharmacological and immunological treatment strategies to help manage drug addiction. For example, his team investigated the utility of agonist-based pharmacological interventions for nicotine and stimulant addiction.

In collaboration with the biopharmaceutical industry, Dr. Desai’s ongoing research examines the ability of candidate vaccines and monoclonal antibodies to counter the adverse effects of nicotine and the opioid fentanyl. This work aims to speed the development of effective pharmacological and/or immunological medication strategies for drug addiction.

Dr. Desai’s research program has expanded to include NASA-funded investigations on the impact of spaceflight stressors on neurochemical signatures that may cause neurocognitive deficits. These stressors include space radiation, sleep deprivation, and social isolation.

NASA is concerned about the impact of these stressors on the central nervous system (CNS). Research conducted by Dr. Desai and his colleagues aims to provide information that will allow NASA to predict how exposure to spaceflight stressors during deep space exploration impacts CNS neurobiological function. This work could facilitate future human deep space travel, such as a mission to Mars.

  • Jack Bergman, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Paul Bremer, PhD, Cessation Therapeutics
  • Bill Carlezon, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Elena H. Chartoff, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Brian D. Kangas, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Stephen J. Kohut, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Charles L. Limoli, PhD, University of California, Irvine
  • Alexandros Makriyannis, PhD, Northeastern University
  • Michael Malamas, PhD, Northeastern University
  • Spyros P. Nikas, PhD, Northeastern University
  • Carol A. Paronis, PhD, McLean Hospital
  • Craig L. Stark, PhD, University of California, Irvine
  • Sarah L. Withey, PhD, University of Queensland
Selected Publications:

Desai RI, Kopajtic TA, Koffarnus M, Newman AH, Katz JL. Identification of a dopamine transporter ligand that blocks the stimulant effects of cocaine. The Journal of neuroscience. 2005;25(8):1889-1893.

Desai RI, Bergman J. Effects of the nanoparticle-based vaccine, SEL-068, on nicotine discrimination in squirrel monkeys. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015;40(9):2207-2216.

Puhl MD, Desai RI (co-first author), Takagi S, Presti KT, Doyle MR, Donahue RJ, Landino SM, Bergman J, Carlezon WA Jr, Coyle JT. N-Methyl-d-aspartate receptor co-agonist availability affects behavioral and neurochemical responses to cocaine: insights into comorbid schizophrenia and substance abuse. Addiction Biology. 2019; ;24(1):40-50. Epub 2017.

PubMed search for Dr. Desai

Education & Training

  • 1995 BSc in Neuroscience, University of Nottingham, U.K.
  • 2001 PhD in Behavioral Pharmacology and Psychology, University of Birmingham, U.K.
  • 2001 Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Psychology, University of Birmingham, U.K.
  • 2002-2005 Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship in Psychobiology, National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • 2006-2007 Research Fellowship in Psychobiology, Preclinical Pharmacology Laboratory, McLean Hospital


Phone: 617.855.3303
Office Address: Belmont campus - Oaks Building