John A. Dani, Ph.D.

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David J. Mahoney Professor of Neurological Sciences
Chair, Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania Health System
Department: Neuroscience
Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
415 Curie Blvd
211 Clinical Research Building
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215-898-8498
B.A. (Atmosheric and Oceanic Science)
University of Michigan, 1975.
Ph.D. (Physiology)
University of Minnesota, 1980.
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Description of Research Expertise

John A. Dani, PhD, is the chair of the Department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine and the Director of the Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences (MINS) at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Dani has a wide breath of research interests, but he is best known for his research into addiction. For example, his work showed that nicotine commandeers normal neural mechanisms of learning and memory during the addiction to tobacco.

Dr. Dani received his Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Minnesota. After postdoctoral training, he became a Research Associate Scientist in the Section of Molecular Neurobiology at Yale University. During this time, Dr. Dani applied himself to basic biophysics and theoretical research, describing mechanisms that underlie the electrical communication within the brain. Later he accepted a position at Baylor College of Medicine, where he became Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. During this period, Dr. Dani was a Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Wiersma Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology. These opportunities enabled him to expand his cellular biophysics research to include in vivo recordings with powerful invasive techniques that probed the mechanisms underlying motivations and decision-making while animals performed experimentally designed behavioral tasks. While at Baylor, Dr. Dani served in many administrative roles, including the chair of the Neuroscience Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committee and a member of the graduate program Executive Committee in Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics. These roles culminated in Dr. Dani becoming Director of the Center on Addiction, Learning, and Memory.

At Penn Dr. Dani plans his research efforts based on the hypothesis that fundamental mechanisms underlie the communication and adaptability of the nervous system. Those same cellular mechanisms that normally serve the brain are misdirected and damaged during disease and are commandeered and altered by the addiction process. Therefore, fundamental mechanisms underlying neuronal functions offer points of entry for pharmacological, physiological, and genetic methods aimed at relieving or preventing abnormal behaviors of mental disease and drug addiction. From this research prospective, his laboratory has made contributions toward our understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders, and addiction. His studies will continue to examine the signaling and dysfunction of neurotransmitter systems, which are the chemical signalers of the brain. For example, his studies have shown that addictive drugs induce synaptic changes in the brain that are comparable to those caused during learning, and his lab showed that antidepressant therapies alter the signaling relationships between mood-regulating neurotransmitter systems. Guided by the same fundamental research principles, Dr. Dani’s lab also has contributed to the understanding of memory functions during exposure to drugs and stress or during degenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia. In his new leadership roles, Dr. Dani aims to enhance the already high level of achievement in the neurosciences by fostering board, interdisciplinary teamwork. Within the Dept. of Neuroscience and MINS, quality and excellence will serve as the basis for student as well as faculty recruitment within a cooperative and supportive environment.

Research techniques: systems neurophysiology, in vivo recording, electrophysiology, behavioral tasks, and brain slices

Key words: addiction, systems neuroscience, behavior, cholinergic, and dopaminergic

Selected Publications

Le W, Zhang L, Xie W, Li S, Dani JA: Pitx3 deficiency produces decreased dopamine signaling and induces motor deficits in Pitx3(-/-) mice. Neurobiology Aging 36(12): 3314-20, Dec 2015.

Subramaniyan M, Dani JA: Dopaminergic and cholinergic learning mechanisms in nicotine addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1349(1): 46-63, Sep 2015.

Jenson D, Yang K, Acevedo-Rodriguez A, Levine A, Broussard JI, Tang J, Dani JA: Dopamine and norepinephrine receptors participate in methylphenidate enhancement of in vivo hippocampal synaptic plasticity. Neuropharmacology 90: 23-32, Mar 2015.

Yang K, Dani JA: Dopamine D1 and D5 receptors modulate spike timing-dependent plasticity at medial perforant path to dentate granule cell synapses. The Journal of Neuroscience 34(48): 15888-97, Nov 2014.

Acevedo-Rodriguez A, Zhang L, Zhou F, Gong S, Gu H, De Biasi M, Zhou FM, Dani JA: Cocaine inhibition of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors influences dopamine release. Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience 6(19), Sep 2014.

Doyon WM, Dong Y, Ostroumov A, Thomas AM, Zhang TA, Dani JA: Nicotine decreases ethanol-induced dopamine signaling and increases self-administration via stress hormones. Neuron 79(3): 530-40, Aug 2013.

Li W, Doyon WM, Dani JA: Quantitative unit classification of ventral tegmental area neurons in vivo. Journal of Neurophysiology 107(10): 2808-20, May 2012.

Zhang L, Dong Y, Doyon WM, Dani JA: Withdrawal from chronic nicotine exposure alters dopamine signaling dynamics in the nucleus accumbens. Biological Psychiatry 71(3): 184-91, Feb 2012.

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Last updated: 04/18/2016
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