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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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

Gao C, Leng Y, Ma J, Rooke V, Rodriguez-Gonzalez S, Ramakrishnan C, Deisseroth K, Penzo MA (2020). Two genetically, anatomically and functionally distinct cell types segregate across anteroposterior axis of paraventricular thalamus. Nat Neurosci 23, 217-228. [Pubmed Link]

Fernandez DC, Komal R, Langel J, Ma J, Duy PQ, Penzo MA, Zhao H, Hattar S (2020). Retinal innervation tunes circuits that drive nonphotic entrainment to food. Nature 581, 194-198. [Pubmed Link]

Beas BS, Wright BJ, Skirzewski M, Leng Y, Hyun JH, Koita O, Ringelberg N, Kwon HB, Buonanno A, Penzo MA (2018). The locus coeruleus drives disinhibition in the midline thalamus via a dopaminergic mechanism. Nat Neurosci 21, 963-973. [Pubmed Link]

Stephenson-Jones M, Yu K, Ahrens S, Tucciarone JM, van Huijstee AN, Mejia LA, Penzo MA, Tai LH, Wilbrecht L, Li B (2016). A basal ganglia circuit for evaluating action outcomes. Nature 539, 289-293. [Pubmed Link]

Penzo MA, Robert V, Tucciarone J, De Bundel D, Wang M, Van Aelst L, Darvas M, Parada LF, Palmiter RD, He M, Huang ZJ, Li B (2015). The paraventricular thalamus controls a central amygdala fear circuit. Nature 519, 455-9. [Pubmed Link]

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