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Education and Training

During my graduate career, I worked with Dr. Todd Thiele at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where I studied the role of neuropeptide Y and corticotropin releasing factor in promoting different aspects of alcoholism.  In my first postdoctoral position, I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Antonello Bonci at the University of California, San Francisco where I learned ex vivo slice electrophysiology.   My final postdoctoral position was in the laboratory of Dr. Garret Stuber at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  Here I learned optogenetic techniques as well as in vivo electrophysiology to show that parallel, but functionally opposing neurons from the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis bidrectionally modulate reward and aversion.


My recently established laboratory takes a systems neuroscience approach to examine the neural circuitry between the limbic and reward systems to uncover novel neural circuits involved in neuropsychiatric illness.  The laboratory also has a strong focus in drug and alcohol addiction Our laboratory will employ both in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiology, optogenetics, freely moving calcium imaging, and advanced microscopy.  Therefore, we will be able to identify, record, and manipulate discrete neural circuits to determine their role in disease states.

Research/Clinical Keywords

circuits, optogenetics, electrophysiology, behavior, imaging

Highlighted Publications

Dennis R. Sparta, Garret D. Stuber (2014) Cartography of serotonergic circuits.  Neuron.  83(3): 513-5.

Dennis R. Sparta, Nanna Hovelso, Alex O. Mason, Pranish A. Kantak Randall L. Ung, Heather K. Decot, Garret D. Stuber (2014)  Activation of prefrontal cortical parvalbumin interneurons during the presentation of reward-predictive cues facilitates extinction.  J Neurosci.  34(10):3699-705.

Joshua H. Jennings*, Dennis R. Sparta*, Alice M. Stamatakis, Randall L. Ung, Kristen E. Pleil, Thomas L. Kash, Garret D. Stuber (2013) Distinct extended amygdala circuits for reward and aversion.  Nature 496(7444): 224-8.

Dennis. R. Sparta, Alice M. Stamatakis, Jana L. Phillips, Nanna Hovelso, Ruud van Zessen, Garret D. Stuber (2011) Construction of implantable optical fibers for long-term optogenetic manipulation of neural circuits.  Nature Protocols 7: 12-23

Matthew J. Wanat*, Dennis R. Sparta*, F. Woodward Hopf, M. Scott Bowers, Miriam Melis, Antonello Bonci (2009) Strain specific synaptic modifications on VTA dopamine neurons after ethanol exposure. Biological Psychiatry 65 (8): 646-653.

*co authors

Awards and Affiliations


2001-2002      Henry Rutgers Scholar

2003               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2004               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2005               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2006               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2006               NIH/NIAAA Travel Award to attend ISBRA in Sydney, Australia

2007               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2009               Research Society on Alcoholism Student Merit Award

2010               Research Society on Alcoholism Enoch Gordis Award Winner

2011               NIAAA Training Directors Meeting and Trainee Workshop Travel Award 

2011               NIDA “Frontiers in Addiction Research” Travel Award

2012               Winter Conference on Brain Research Travel Fellowship

2012               Dutch Endo-Neuro-Psycho Meeting Travel Fellowship

2014               ACNP Early Career Travel Award

Grants and Contracts

Active Grants:

 9/1/14-8/31/15          (PI: 100%)

                                   “The Role of the BNST to VTA Neural Circuit in Binge Alcohol Consumption”  

                                   NIAAA, K99AA021417

                                   Annual Direct Costs: $150,877

                                   Total Direct Costs: $301,754

Completed Grants:

 8/4/05-8/3/07             (PI 100%)

                                    “The Role of NPY on the Alcohol Deprivation Effect”

                                    NIAAA, F31AA015875

                                    Annual Direct Costs: $29,166

                                    Total Direct Costs: $58,332


8/16/09-8/15/12          (PI 100%)

                                    “Enhanced CRF Signaling in the VTA Following Binge Drinking”

                                    NIAAA, F32AA018610

                                    Annual Direct Costs: $47,210

                                    Total Direct Costs: $141,630


  • Society for Neuroscience
  • Research Society on Alcoholism
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