Sade Spencer, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology

Sade Spencer

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-625-9929

Office Address:
3-212 McGuire Translational Research Facility
2001 6th St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

2-104 Nils Hasselmo Hall
312 Church St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Lab Address:
3-422 McGuire Translational Research Facility
2001 6th St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Postdoctoral Fellow, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC

PhD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, Neuroscience

BS, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, Biology


Dr. Spencer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology. Dr. Spencer received her B.S. degree from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa in Biology in 2006. She received her Ph.D. degree in the Neuroscience Graduate Program from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in the laboratory of Dr. Colleen A. McClung. Her postdoctoral training was in the laboratory of Dr. Peter W. Kalivas at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Spencer was recruited to the University of Minnesota as part of the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction.


Drug addiction, relapse, neuronal plasticity, glutamate, dopamine

Awards & Recognition

Winter Conference on Brain Research Travel Award, 2017

Mentoring Institute for Neuroscience Diversity (MINDS) Fellowship, 2017

NIDA Diversity Scholars Travel Award to the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, 2015

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting Travel Award, 2014

NIDA Early Career Investigator Travel Award to the American Psychological Association Annual Meeting, 2014

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Postdoctoral Enrichment Fellowship, 2013

Philanthropic Educational Organization Scholar Award, 2011

Dean’s Discretionary Award-UTSW, 2010

Professional Associations

Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS)

International Society for Neurochemistry (ISN)

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP)


Research Summary/Interests

Research in the Spencer Lab is motivated by understanding the mechanisms related to the development of addiction as a relapsing, remitting brain disorder in order to guide the rational design or discovery of new, more effective treatments for drug addiction. Chronic drug use results in a variety of maladaptive neuroadaptations that set the stage for relapse even after protracted abstinence periods. It is our hope that a better understanding of the trajectory of the neuroplasticity, physiology, and neurochemistry that underlie behavior will help guide these pursuits. The Spencer Lab uses preclinical rodent models of reward and other related psychiatric domains to achieve this goal. We couple this behavioral analysis with molecular, pharmacological, and genetic tools

We have a major focus on glutamate and dopamine interactions within the primary reward circuitry (ventral tegmental area, prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens). We aim to validate a specific role of mesolimbic dopamine in controlling key biological adaptations at glutamatergic synapses in the nucleus accumbens that underlie cue-induced relapse to cocaine use. We are using viral mediated delivery of designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs) or optogenetics to activate and silence ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons during behavior. It remains to be seen what impact repeated drug relapse events are having on circuit function or long-term treatment outcomes, and our model will allow us to probe this question in the context of this circuit. We are also exploring novel pharmacological interventions for cocaine relapse including efforts to repurpose other FDA-approved drugs.

Additionally, we are studying mechanisms of cannabinoid reward. Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug worldwide, but enduring health consequences of its use are largely unknown. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, displays a narrow dose reward window but produces enduring neuroadaptations following chronic self-administration that resemble other drugs of abuse. As with other drugs of abuse, THC can dose-dependently produce both reward and aversion. Understanding how each is encoded will help guide development of therapeutics for treating cannabis use disorder as well as designing non-addictive cannabinergic therapies for other disorders.