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Feb 1 2023

Dr. Dennis Sparta | Dissecting extended amygdala circuits in motivated behavior

Current Topic Series

February 1, 2023

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM


BSB 1076

Dennis R Sparta, PhD

Abstract: The co-morbidity of anxiety and dysfunctional reward processing in illnesses such as alcohol and/or substance use disorder suggests that common neural circuitry contributes to these disparate neuropsychiatric symptoms. The extended amygdala, including the central amygdala (CeA) and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) modulates fear, anxiety, reward, and aversion, thus providing candidate neural substrates that are involved in integrating diverse emotional states.  However, both regions are extremely heterogenous, containing many different neuronal subtypes, making it difficult to study their exact contributions to behavior.  In the Sparta laboratory, we use multiple contemporary circuit mapping techniques in mice including electrophysiology, optogenetics, chemogenetics, and advanced microscopy, to identify, record, and manipulate genetically identical neurons and circuits within these structures in order to ascertain their role in controlling motivational states.  Here, I will discuss the development of a binge ethanol drinking model in mice and how distinct CeA neurons encode different aspects of this behavior including intoxication and withdrawal.  Additionally, I will describe how a distinct neural circuit from the insula cortex (IC) to the BNST modulates exteroceptive triggers that are predictive of reward and may be hijacked during alcohol and substance use disorder. Lastly, I will describe the future projects in my lab such as what CeA mechanisms are responsible for binge ethanol induced neuroinflammation as well as the possible therapeutic role of psychedelics in reducing relapse in models of alcohol and drug use disorder.  Taken together, these data may provide insight for the development of new treatment strategies to normalize maladaptive behaviors.


Mitch Roitman

Date posted

Jan 24, 2023

Date updated

Jan 24, 2023


Dennis Sparta, PhD | Assistant Professor | UIC Psychology