Dr. Dulcis received his B.S. from University of Cagliari in Italy double majoring in Physiology and Biology. While earning his Ph.D. from University of Arizona in Neuroscience, he illustrated the role of neurotransmitters in cardiac function of neurogenic invertebrate hearts. During his post-doctoral training in the Neurobiology department at UC San Diego, he expanded his research repertoire to include activity-dependent and circuit-specific respecification of neurotransmitters affecting behavior. His research at UCSD led to the discovery that the transmitters expressed in neurons can be respecified by sensory stimuli, with matching respecification of postsynaptic receptor expression and associated changes in behavior (Nature, 2008; Science, 2013). He joined the Department of Psychiatry as Principal Investigator in January 2015. Research projects in his laboratory implement an interdisciplinary approach to identify activity-regulated genes involved in neurotransmitter plasticity which evolved to accommodate behaviors and that could provide new therapeutic strategies with translational application in a number of neurological conditions including mood disorders and drug abuse.
Dr. Dulcis' research projects focus on circuit-specific respecification of neurotransmitters in the developing and adult brain. His studies have shown that altering the activation of a simple neural circuit in the postembryonic brain by a natural stimulus (ambient light) changes the numbers of neurons expressing dopamine (Nature, 2008).
Significantly, Dr. Dulcis found that newly dopaminergic neurons serve the same behavior as the native population of dopaminergic neurons. He recently discovered behaviorally relevant transmitter switching in the mature nervous system (Science, 2013).
In his laboratory, Dr. Dulcis is testing the generality of this novel form of calcium activity-dependent plasticity (J. Neuroscience, 2011). He hypothesizes that other sensory modalities as well as psychostimulants, induce transmitter switching in neurons of the activated circuits affecting behavior (Develop. Neurobiology, 2012).
Dr. Dulcis is currently carrying out studies to test whether selective circuit activation promotes transmitter respecification affecting behaviors in translational animal models relevant for a variety of neuropsychiatric conditions including depression (Europ. J. Pharmacology, 2015) and addiction.