Welcome to the Venton Lab!


Venton Lab: Analytical Neurochemistry

Our research program is focused on the development of sensing and sampling techniques for the detection of new molecules in the brain.  We aim to study the real-time release of many different neurotransmitters simultaneously to better understand the normal and diseased functioning of the brain. 

Note: We are recruiting graduate students for Fall 2023


The Venton lab was recently featured in UVA Today: Read about our fly work here

Venton Lab introduction video!

Recent Publications

  • Chang, Y.; Cao, Q.; Venton, B. J. 3D printing for customized carbon electrode. Current Opinion in Electrochemistry 2023.

    Traditional carbon electrodes are made of glassy carbon or carbon fibers and have limited shapes. 3D printing offers many advantages for manufacturing carbon electrodes, such as complete customization of the shape and the ability to fabricate devices and electrodes simultaneously. Additive manufacturing is the most common 3D printing method, where carbon materials are added to the material to make it conductive, and treatments applied to enhance electrochemical activity. A newer form of 3D printing is 2-photon lithography, where electrodes are printed in photoresist via laser lithography and then annealed to carbon by pyrolysis. Applications of 3D printed carbon electrodes include nanoelectrode measurements of neurotransmitters, arrays of biosensors, and integrated electrodes in microfluidic devices.

  • Parkinson’s disease (PD) is characterized by progressive degeneration of dopaminergic neurons leading to reduced locomotion. Mutations of parkin gene in Drosophila produce the same phenotypes as vertebrate models, but the effect of parkin knockdown on dopamine release is not known. Here, we report age-dependent, spatial variation of dopamine release in the brain of parkin-RNAi adult Drosophila. Dopamine was repetitively stimulated by local application of acetylcholine and quantified by fast-scan cyclic voltammetry in the central complex or mushroom body heel. In the central complex, the main area controlling locomotor function, dopamine release is maintained for repeated stimulations in aged control flies, but lower concentrations of dopamine are released in the central complex of aged parkin-RNAi flies. In the mushroom body heel, the dopamine release decrease in older parkin-RNAi flies is similar to controls. There is not significant dopaminergic neuronal loss even in older parkin knockdown flies, which indicates that the changes in stimulated dopamine release are due to alterations of neuronal function. In young parkin-RNAi flies, locomotion is inhibited by 30%, while in older parkin-RNAi flies it is inhibited by 85%. Overall, stimulated dopamine release is modulated by parkin in an age and brain region dependent manner. Correlating the functional state of the dopaminergic system with behavioral phenotypes provides unique insights into the PD mechanism. Drosophila can be used to study dopamine functionality in PD, elucidate how genetics influence dopamine, and test potential therapies to maintain dopamine release.

  • Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly, is an excellent model organism for studying dopaminergic mechanisms and simple behaviors, but methods to measure dopamine during behavior are needed. Here, we developed fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) to track in vivo dopamine during sugar feeding. First, we employed acetylcholine stimulation to evaluate the feasibility of in vivo measurements in an awake fly. Next, we tested sugar feeding by placing sucrose solution near the fly proboscis. In the mushroom body medial tip, 1 pmol acetylcholine and sugar feeding released 0.49±0.04 μM and 0.31±0.06 μM dopamine, respectively but sugar-evoked release lasted longer than with acetylcholine. Administering the dopamine transporter inhibitor nisoxetine or D2 receptor antagonist flupentixol significantly increased sugar-evoked dopamine. This study develops FSCV to measure behaviorally evoked release in fly, enabling Drosophila studies of neurochemical control of reward, learning, and memory behaviors.

  • Nanodiamonds (NDs) are a carbon nanomaterial that has a diamond core with heteroatoms and defects at the surface. The large surface area, defect sites, and functional groups on NDs make them a promising material for electrochemical sensing. Previously, we dip-coated ND onto carbon-fiber microelectrodes (CFMEs) and found increases in sensitivity, but the coating was sparse. Here, we directly grew thin films of ND on niobium wires using microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition (MP-CVD) to provide full surface coverage. ND microelectrodes show a reliable performance in neurotransmitter detection with good antifouling properties. To improve sensitivity, we oxygen plasma etched ND films to activate the surface and intentionally add defects and oxygen surface functional groups. For fast-scan cyclic voltammetry detection of dopamine, oxygen plasma-etching increases the sensitivity from 21 nA/μM to 90 nA/μM after treatment. Fouling was tested by repeated injections of serotonin or tyramine, and both ND and plasma oxidized nanodiamond (NDO) microelectrodes maintain their currents better compared to CFMEs and therefore are more antifouling. A biofouling test in brain slices shows that ND microelectrodes barely have any current drop, while the more hydrophilic NDO microelectrodes decrease more, but still not as much as CFMEs. Overall, grown ND microelectrodes are promising in neurotransmitter detection with excellent fouling resistance, whereas oxygen plasma etching slightly lowers the fouling resistance but dramatically increases sensitivity.