David Sulzer, PhD

  • Professor of Neurobiology (in Psychiatry, Neurology and Pharmacology) at CUMC
Profile Headshot


Dave Sulzer is a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, Pharmacology, and at the School of the Arts at Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute. He attended Michigan State University, studied plant breeding and genetics at the University of Florida, and received a PhD in biology from Columbia University. His lab has published over 200 studies on synaptic function in normal and diseased states that are cited over 40,000 times (h-index 86). He is the founder of the Dopamine Society, the Gordon Conference on Parkinson’s Disease, and the journal Nature Parkinson’s Disease.

He has received awards from the McKnight, Simons, Helmsley, NARSAD, Huntington’s, and Aaron Diamond Foundations and given named lectureships at the National Institutes of Health, Harvard, Yale, UCSF, Emory, UC Irvine, and the Universities of Minnesota, Jerusalem and London and the Portuguese and Austrian Societies for Neuroscience. His students and postdocs have received Fulbright, Marshall, and Regeneron awards for their work in the lab, and past trainees are professors at Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, Yale, Lund, Pittsburgh, Jefferson, Tufts, Emory, Karolinska, Ecole Normale Superieure, and NYU, while one who runs a pharmaceutical company and one is the science editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Neurobiology (in Psychiatry, Neurology and Pharmacology) at CUMC

Administrative Titles

  • Pharmacology
  • School of the Arts/Sound Arts


  • Male

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • PhD, 1988 Biology, Columbia

Committees, Societies, Councils

Conference Organizer

1999 Conference Organizer, In Vivo Methods

1999-2015 Organizing Committee, In Vivo Methods

2003 Vice-Chair, Gordon Conference on Catecholamines

2005-2013 Organizing Committee, International Neurotoxicity Society Meeting

2005 Chair, Gordon Conference on Catecholamines

2005 Conference on Autophagy, Hereditary Disease Foundation

2007 Graduate Research Seminar, Gordon Conference on Catecholamines

2009 World Federation of Neurology, Conference on Parkinson’s & Related Disorders

2011 International Catecholamine Symposium

2014-2018 Advisory Committee, Simons Foundation Lecture Series

2015 Founding Chair, Gordon Conference on Parkinson’s disease

2016 Organizing Committee, Dopamine 2016, Vienna

2020 Chair, Dopamine 2020 Conference, co-Founder Dopamine Society (rescheduled May, 2021)

2020 Organizing Committee, Interspecies Communication (originally Rockefeller University, video conference due to COVID)

Society Memberships

founder, Dopamine Society (2019) with Louis Trudeau

Society for Neuroscience, N.Y. Academy of Science, A.A.A.S., American Academy Neurology, Biophysical Society, Organizer for the International Conference on in vivo Methods, seminar organizer for Winter Conference on Brain Research, International Neurotoxicity Society, Chair of Gordon Conference on Catecholamines, Chair of Gordon Conference on Parkinson’s Disease


Editorial Board, Journal of Parkinson’s Disease (2017-)

Founding Editor, Nature NPG Parkinson’s Disease (2015-)

Editorial Board, Faculty of 1000 F1000Prime (2014-)

Editor for submissions, Proceedings National Academy of Science USA (2013)

Editorial Board, Basal Ganglia (2011-2016)

Editorial Board, Autophagy (2006-2013)

Editorial Board, Neurotoxicity Research (2002-2013)

Editor for neurotransmission in The Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry (Wiley & Sons, 1999)

Editor Monitoring Molecules in Neuroscience (Pfizer, 1999)

Honors & Awards

Visiting Professor, University of Rome, Department of Pharmacology 2021 -

Founder, the Dopamine Society

Founder, Gordon Conference on Parkinson's Disease

Founding Editor, Nature Parkinson's Disease

Raymond D. Adams Award, Harvard University Department of Neurology

Youdim / Finberg Award, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Keynote Lectures for NIH, Yale, the Vatican, Queen Sofia of Spain


2021 11th Annual Neuroscience Seminar, Tufts University

2020 Neuroscience for Mental Health Seminar, McGill University

2020 Raymond D. Adams Lecture, Harvard University Mass General Hospital, Dept. Neurology,

2020 Killam Seminar, Montreal Neurological Institute

2020 Frontiers in Neuroscience Seminar, Emory University

2020 Plenary Speaker, NEURO2020 Global Summit on Research and Innovation in Neurodegenerative Disorders, Salmanaca (invited by Queen Sofia) (rescheduled for 2021)

2020 Chair, Dopamine 2020 conference, Montreal (with Louis-Eric Trudeau) (rescheduled for 2021)

2020 Plenary Speaker, Movement Disorders Society, Miami, Florida

2020 Youdim / Finberg Award for research in Psychiatry Hebrew University, Jerusalem

2020 Plenary Speaker, Keystone Meeting on Neuroimmune Reactions in the CNS

2019 founded the Dopamine Society (with Louis-Eric Trudeau, U. Montreal)

2019 Plenary Speaker, joint annual meetings of Austrian Neuroscience Association and Austrian Pharmacological Society

2019 Keynote Speaker, Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) on Parkinson’s Disease

2019 Distinguished Lecture in Medicinal Chemistry, University of Minnesota

2019 External Scientific Advisory Board, University of Alabama Udall Center

2018 Annual Graduate Student Invitation Seminar, Tulane University

2018 Annual Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Invitation Seminar, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam

2018 Schaefer Award to lab (for research by Maria Minacci)

2018 Keynote Speaker, inaugural Southeastern Neurodegenerative Disease Conference, Orlando, Florida

2018- External Scientific Advisory Board, Johns Hopkins Udall Center

2017 Chair Study Section Department of Defense Parkinson’s Research Program

2017 Presidential Lecture, Society of Neuroimmune Pharmacology

2017 Editorial Board, Journal of Parkinson’s Disease

2016 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award

2016 Keynote Lecture, Van Andel Retreat, Michigan State University

2016 Plenary Seminar, Monitoring Molecules in Neuroscience, U Goteberg, Sweden

2015 Plenary Seminar, Movement Disorders Society, San Diego

2015 2015 Distinguished Lecture, University of California Irvine

2015 Founding Chair, Gordon Conference on Parkinson’s Disease

2015 Founding Editor, Nature (NPG) Parkinson’s Disease

2015 Keynote Seminar, Wheeler Center, UCSF

2015 University of California, Irvine, Medical Scientist Training Program Distinguished Lecture Series

2014 National Institute of Neurological Disorders, Board of Scientific Counselors

2014 Faculty of 1000 Board

2014 Keynote Speaker (with Brad Garton), NIH Annual Graduate Student Retreat

2013 Helmsley Award for Research

2013 Adjunct Professor School of the Arts, Columbia University

2013 Plenary Seminar, Nebraska Research and Innovation Conference, U. Medical School Creighton University

2012 Plenary Seminar, Monitoring Molecules in Neuroscience, Imperial College, London

2012 Keynote Lecture in Cellular Neuroscience, Yale University

2012 Frontiers of Neuroscience, Emory University

2012-2018 Board of Scientific Directors, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation

2011 Vatican Lecture (with audience with the Pope) Dopamine and Parkinson’s Disease Symposia, Vatican City

2010 Faculty of 1000

2009 Spring Seminar, Michigan State University

2008 McKnight Award in Neuroscience for Technological Innovation

2008 Spring Symposium Lecture, University of Michigan,

2007 Columbia Integrated Science & Engineering Award (with Dalibor Sames)

2007 Plenary talk, 50 Years of Dopamine, Gothenburg, Sweden

2004 Picower Foundation Award

2003 Cassy Bachner Award, Huntington’s Diseases Society of America

2002 Frontiers of Neuroscience, Emory University

2002 Cutting Edge Seminar, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, MD

2002 Killam Lecture, McGill University, Montreal

2000 Leadership Award, Huntington's Disease Society of America

1999 NARSAD Independent Investigator Award

1996 James T. Shannon Award, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH

1989 NARSAD Young Investigator Award

1988 Howard Hughes Postdoctoral Award


Dr. Sulzer's lab investigates the function and alteration of the synapses of the cortex and the basal ganglia including the dopamine system in normal behaviors such as habit formation and action selection, and in diseases of the system. Their work has made fundamental contributions to understanding the roles of these synapses in Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, schizophrenia, autism, and drug addiction. His laboratory developed new optical, electrophysiological and electrochemical methods including the first direct recordings of quantal neurotransmitter release from synapses, the fundamental unit of neurotransmission, and the first optical methods to observe neurotransmitter release and reuptake. His work increased the understanding of the life cycle of synaptic vesicles, cellular structures that package neurotransmitter release.

Among the discoveries and inventions of the laboratory are 1) discovery of co-release of glutamate from dopamine neurons (with Stephen Rayport) 2) introduction of the weak base mechanism of amphetamine action and the first direct measurement of reverse transport, an important property of amphetamine 3) the first recording of quantal neurotransmitter release from CNS synapses, by using amperometry at dopamine terminals 4) discovery of multiple means to alter quantal size, including the effects of L-DOPA, amphetamine, vesicle transporter expression (with Robert Edwards), rebound hyperacidification, and discovery of fusion pore flickering 5) discovery of the biosynthetic pathway of neuromelanin 6) introduction of & the role of autophagic degradation in synaptic development, which may underlie forms of autism, 7) discovery of how alpha-synuclein and other proteins are degraded by chaperone-mediated autophagy, which may underlie forms of Parkinson’s (with Ana Maria Cuervo) 8) the first optical analysis of corticostriatal transmission, showing the role of activity, dopamine, and acetylcholine in synaptic selection (with Nigel Bamford) 9) co-invention of fluorescent false neurotransmitters, the first optical means to observe neurotransmitter release and reuptake from CNS terminals (with Dalibor Sames) 10) discovered the role of glutamate in controlling axonal outgrowth and branching 11) discovery of antigen presentation by neurons targeted in Parkinson’s disease, which may underlie targeted cell death.

The Sulzer lab has published over 140 papers on this research and has received awards from the McKnight, Helmsely, Picower, Michael J Fox, Simons, HDSA Foundations, NIH, and NARSAD.

Research Interests

  • Cell biology
  • Learning and behavior
  • Neurodegeneration and repair
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Synapses and Circuits


  • Four current R01s (NIMH. NINDS. NIDA)
  • Lead PI, ASAP Foundation award for research in Parkinson's
  • Multiple private foundation awards

Selected Publications

Lieberman, O.J., M.D. Frier, A.F. McGuirt, C.J. Griffey, E. Rafikian, M. Yang, A. Yamamoto, A. Borgkvist, E. Santini, and D. Sulzer. 2020. Cell-type-specific regulation of neuronal intrinsic excitability by macroautophagy. eLife. 9. PMID: 31913125

David Sulzer, Roy Alcalay, Francesca Garretti, Lucien Cote, Ellen Kanter, Christopher Liong, Carla Oseroff, John Pham, Myles B Dillon, Chelsea Carpenter, Daniela Weiskopf, Elizabeth Phillips, Simon Mallal, Bjoern Peters, April Frazier, Cecilia S. Lindestam Arlehamn, Alessandro Sette (2017). T cells of Parkinson's disease patients recognize alpha-synuclein peptides. Nature, 546:656-661. PMID:28636593

Tang, G., Gudsnjk K., Kuo S-H, Cotrina M, Rosokliga G., Sonders M, Kanter E., Barnard C, Yamamoto A, Yue Z, Champagne F, Dwork, A. J., Goldman J., Sulzer, D. (2014) Dendritic spine pruning defects in autism mediated by neuronal loss of macroautophagy. Neuron, 83:1-13. PMID: 25155956

Cebrian, C., Budhu, S., Zucca, F.A., Mauri, Pl, Mandelbaum, J., Scherzer, C., Vonsattel, J.P., Zecca, L., Loike, J.D., Sulzer, D. (2014) MHC-I expression renders catecholaminergic neurons susceptible to T-cell mediated degeneration. Nature Communications, 16:1-14. PMID:24736453

Daniela B. Pereira, Yvonne Schmitz, Jozsef Meszaros, Paolomi Merchant, Gang Hu, Shu Li, Adam Henke, Jose E. Lizardi-Ortiz, Richard J. Karpowicz Jr, Mark Sonders, Ellen Kanter, Pamela C. Rodriguez, Eugene Mosharov, Dalibor Sames, David Sulzer (2016) Imaging individual synapses with novel fluorescent false neurotransmitter FFN200 reveals a low density of active striatal dopamine terminal. Nature Neuroscience, 19:578-586. PMID:26900925