Sulzer Laboratory

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David Sulzer, Ph.D., Depts. Neurology & Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY
Dept. Neuroscience, New York State Psychiatric Institute

Midbrain dopamine neurons in postnatal culture. The yellow presynaptic terminals are labeled for VMAT2, the synaptic vesicle transporter responsible for dopamine accumulation. These sites are responsible for the release of dopamine in the nervous system and the site of action for psychostimulant drugs including amphetamine and cocaine.

Our lab seeks to understand those synaptic connections in the cortex and basal ganglia that underlie memory, learning, and behavior, and the mechanisms underlying diseases that occur at these synapses, including Parkinson's Disease, schizophrenia, autism, and drug addiction.

In particular, we explore synapses formed by the midbrain dopamine projections that underlie "reward" and learning, including that associated with psychostimulant drugs, food and sex, and voluntary motor control, and how they interact with inputs from the cortex. These synapses are the primary target for drugs of abuse including cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, and opiates. Alterations in their state underlie addiction and schizophrenic psychosis. The loss of the midbrain dopamine neurons is the cause of Parkinson's disease, while the loss of their target neurons in the striatum causes Huntington's disease. Our research further suggests that altered synaptic interactions between the cortex and this system contributes to the pathology that underlies instances of autism spectrum disorder.

The lab is located at the Columbia University Medical Campus