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Principal Investigator

Photo of Dr. Mario Penzo  Chief of the 'Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory' at NIMH.

Mario Penzo, Ph.D.

Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory


Dr. Penzo obtained his Ph.D. at Albert Einstein College of Medicine with support from an NRSA training grant. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jose Luis Peña he completed his dissertation on the endocannabinoid-mediated modulation of synaptic transmission in the avian auditory midbrain. Next, he became a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Bo Li at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where he studied the synaptic mechanisms controlling fear memory and received the Harvey L. Karp Discovery Award. Dr. Penzo joined the National Institute of Mental Health in the Fall of 2015.

Research Interests

Dr. Penzo’s lab is currently investigating the neuronal mechanisms underlying the formation and regulation of affective memories. Because increased stress sensitivity is a known risk factor for mood disorders, his group is interested in deciphering the neuronal circuits controlling susceptibility to stress. To achieve this they are currently employing a multidisciplinary approach, which includes behavioral assays, electrophysiological, imaging, neuroanatomical and optogenetics techniques.

Selected Publications

Endocannabinoid-mediated LTD in the avian midbrain expressed pre- and postsynaptically. Mario A. Penzo and Jose Luis Pena. J. Neurosci. 2009 Apr 1;29 (13):4131-9 PMID: 19339608.

Depolarization-induced suppression of spontaneous release in the avian midbrain. Mario A. Penzo and Jose Luis Pena. J. Neurosci. 2011 March 9:31 (10):3602-3609 PMID: 21389216.

Experience- dependent modification of a central amygdala fear circuit. Haohong Li, Mario Penzo, Hiroki Taniguchi, Z. Josh Huang, Bo Li. Nat. Neurosci. 2013 Mar; 16(3):332-9 PMID: 23354330.

Fear conditioning potentiates synaptic transmission onto long-range projection neurons in the lateral subdivision of central amygdala. Mario A. Penzo, Vincent Robert, Bo Li. J. Neurosci. 2014 Feb; 34(7): 2432-7 PMID: 24523533.

The paraventricular thalamus controls a central amygdala fear circuit. Mario A. Penzo, Vincent Robert, Jason Tucciarone, Dimitri De Bundel, Minghui Wang, Linda Van Aelst, Martin Darvas, Luis Parada, Richard Palmiter, Miao He, Z. Josh Huang, Bo Li. Nature. 2015 Mar 26; 519(7544):455-9 PMID: 25600269.

Retrieving fear memories as time goes by…. Do-Monte, FH, Quirk, GJ, Li B, Penzo, MA. Mol. Psych.. 2016 Aug; 21(8):1027-36 PMID: 27217148.

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