Brian M. Sweis

UMN MSTP student Brian Sweis


Entering Class:


Loyola University Chicago
Biology, Psychology majors; Neuroscience, Philosophy minors
B.S., 2012

University of Minnesota
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Ph.D., 2018

Honors and Awards:

  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Predoctoral MD/PhD Fellows, National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017-2021)
  • Best Dissertation Award in the Biological and Life Sciences at the University of Minnesota (2019 )
  • Clinical & Translational Science Institute Fellowship, Translational Research Development Program, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (2018-20)
  • MnDrive Neuromodulation Research Fellowship Grant, "Optogenetic modulation of corticostriatal decision-making circuitry in mouse models of addiction" (2015-17)
  • Travel Awards:
    • American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Meeting, Orlando, FL (2019) 
    • UMN Medical School Grant for Society for Neuroscience Meeting, Chicago, IL (2019)
    • Society for Neuroeconomics Meeting, Dublin, Ireland (2019) 
    • GPN Stark Grant for Society of Biological Psychiatry Meeting, New York, NY (2018)
    • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Grant for Combining Clinic and Research Careers Meeting, Washing, D.C. (2016)
    • UMN COGS Grant for American Academy of Neurology Meeting, Vancouver, BC, Canada (2016)
    • Japan Neuroscience Society Meeting, Yokohama, Japan (2016)
    • UMN MSTP Grant for American Physician Scientists Association Meeting, Chicago, IL (2015)
    • American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Meeting, Huntington Beach, CA (2015)
    • American Academy of Neurology Meeting, Washington, D.C. (2014)
    • Society for Neuroscience Meeting, New Orleans, LA (2012)

MSTP Student Governance:

  • Student Advisory Committee 2017-20

Thesis Advisors: Mark Thomas, Ph.D. and David Redish, Ph.D

Hobbies and Interests:

  • cooking
  • painting and filmmaking
  • running, basketball, volleyball

Career and scientific interests:

An M.D./Ph.D. candidate studying neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, I am expanding my research and clinical education, with applications of translational research in academic medicine. My research interests lie at the intersection of affective, behavioral, and cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychiatry and neurology, particularly focused on neuromodulation interventions. Currently, my work aims to understand how the brain processes information during decision-making and how lasting changes in the synaptic mechanisms of plasticity, particularly in the context of addiction and other psychiatric disorders, give rise to maladaptive behaviors. Much of my thesis work has been rooted in concepts of computational psychiatry and neuroeconomics, identifying biomarkers of heterogeneous disease states in order to better understand individual differences in pathogenesis and to develop novel interventions tailored to an individual’s circuit-specific computational dysfunction. Ultimately, I aim to pursue post-residency training in academic medicine with a neuromodulation emphasis in computational psychiatry, while remaining active in teaching alongside my integrated translational research and clinical practice.

Thesis Research

How the brain processes information when making decisions depends on how that information is stored. Distinct neural circuits are capable of storing information in many different ways that are better suited for different situations. The decision-making processes that access those different bits of stored information are not singular and occupy separable neural circuits, each of which can operate in parallel with one another, and each of which can confer different information processing properties based on the neural constraints within which a given computation resides. Such is the framework of recent theories in neuroeconomics, which suggest that decisions are multi-faceted and action-selection processes can arise from fundamentally distinct circuit-specific neural computations. In this thesis, I present a body of work that takes a neuroeconomics approach through a series of experiments that reveal the complexities of multiple, parallel decision-making systems through complex behaviors by moving beyond simple tests of value. In the first half of this thesis, I demonstrate how complex behavioral computations can resolve fundamentally distinct valuation algorithms thought to reside in separable neural circuits. I then translate this approach between human and non-human rodent animal models in order to reveal how multiple, parallel decision-making systems are conserved across species over evolution. In the second half of this thesis, I demonstrate the utility of behavioral economics in disease-relevant and circuit-based studies. If multiple, parallel decision-making processes are thought to be intimately related to the heterogeneous ways in which information can be stored in separable neural circuits, I examine how addiction – a disease which is thought to be a disorder of the neurobiological mechanisms of learning and memory – might alter how stored information is processed in separable decision-making systems uniquely using a mouse model of two different forms of addiction. In doing so, I demonstrate how different forms of addiction give rise to unique, lasting vulnerabilities in fundamentally distinct decision-making computations. These discoveries can aid in resolving neuropsychiatric disease heterogeneity by moving beyond simple tests of value where complex behaviors that are measured can more accurately reflect the neurally distinct computations that underlie those behaviors. Finally, I take a neuromodulation approach and directly alter the strength of synaptic transmission in a circuit-specific manner using optogenetics in mice tested in this neuroeconomic framework. I demonstrate how plasticity alterations in projections between the infralimbic cortex and the nucleus accumbens are capable of giving rise to long-lasting disruptions of self-control related decision processes in a foraging valuation algorithm independent of and separate from a deliberative valuation algorithm measured within the same trial. Furthermore, I developed a novel plasticity measurement tool that is assayed at the neuronal population ensemble level and reveals individual differences in separable decision processes. The second half of the thesis demonstrates a potential biomarker to target as a circuit-computation-specific therapeutic intervention tailored to those types of decision-making dysfunctions. Taken together, I present a body of work in this thesis that demonstrates the utility of moving beyond simple tests of value in order to resolve the computational complexity of decision making.

Publications (pubmed)

Brown LA, Johnston DR, Rastatter J, Sweis BM, Maddalozzo J. Differences in management outcome for first branchial cleft anomalies: A comparison of infants and toddlers to older children. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2019 Jul;122:161-164.

Wang MZ, Sweis BM, Hayden BY. A testable definition of curiosity. Invited IEEE CIS Newsletter Dialogue on Cognitive and Developmental Robotics Systems 14 (2): 6. October 10, 2018.

Sweis BM, Thomas MJ, Redish AD. Beyond simple tests of value: measuring addiction as a heterogeneous disease of computation-specific valuation processes. Learn Mem. 2018 Aug 16;25(9):501-512. PMCID: PMC6097760

Sweis BM, Abram SV, Schmidt BJ, Seeland KD, MacDonald AW 3rd, Thomas MJ, Redish AD. Sensitivity to "sunk costs" in mice, rats, and humans. Science. 2018 Jul 13;361(6398):178-181. PMCID: PMC6377599

Sweis BM, Redish AD, Thomas MJ. Prolonged abstinence from cocaine or morphine disrupts separable valuations during decision conflict. Nat Commun. 2018 Jun 28;9(1):2521. PMCID: PMC6023899

Sweis BM, Thomas MJ, Redish AD. Mice learn to avoid regret. PLoS Biol. 2018 Jun 21;16(6):e2005853. PMCID: PMC6013153

Sweis BM, Larson EB, Redish AD, Thomas MJ. Altering gain of the infralimbic-to-accumbens shell circuit alters economically dissociable decision-making algorithms. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jul 3;115(27):E6347-E6355. PMCID: PMC6142249

Satrom KM, Ennis K, Sweis BM, Matveeva TM, Chen J, Hanson L, Maheshwari A, Rao R. Neonatal hyperglycemia induces CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling and microglial activation and impairs long-term synaptogenesis in the hippocampus and alters behavior in rats. J Neuroinflammation. 2018 Mar 15;15(1):82. doi: 10.1186/s12974-018-1121-9. PMCID: PMC5856387

Bachour SP, Hevesi M, Bachour O, Sweis BM, Mahmoudi J, Brekke JA, Divani AA. Comparisons between Garcia, Modo, and Longa rodent stroke scales: Optimizing resource allocation in rat models of focal middle cerebral artery occlusion. J Neurol Sci. 2016 May 15;364:136-40.

Sweis BM, Bachour SP, Brekke JA, Gewirtz JC, Sadeghi-Bazargani H, Hevesi M, Divani AA. A modified beam-walking apparatus for assessment of anxiety in a rodent model of blast traumatic brain injury. Behav Brain Res. 2016 Jan 1;296:149-56.

Sweis BM, Bachour SP, Brekke JA, Gewirtz JC, Sadeghi-Bazargani H, Hevesi M, Divani AA. A modified beam-walking apparatus for assessment of anxiety in a rodent model of blast traumatic brain injury. Behav Brain Res. 2015 Sep 11;296:149-156.

For work prior to entering the Program:

Sweis BM, Veverka KK, Dhillon ES, Urban JH, Lucas LR. Individual Differences in the Effects of Chronic Stress on Memory: Behavioral and Neurochemical Correlates of Resiliency. Neuroscience. 2013 Aug 29;246:142-59.

*Sweis, BM*
, Bharani, K.L., Morrison, R.G. Time course of inhibitory control during analogical reasoning: An event-related potential approach. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. P. Cooper (Eds.), Peer-reviewed paper in Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX, August 2012. *co-first author