The primary research interest in the Pan lab is to understand the function and the regulation of dopaminergic synapses, as well as the mechanisms of their deregulation in disease conditions. Dopaminergic signaling modulates a multitude of human behaviors including body movements, reward and addiction, as well as motivational behaviors. Strikingly, loss of dopamine neurons in the Substantia Nigra leads to a common and devastating neurodegenerative disorder known as Parkinson's disease (PD). One of the most challenging questions for the PD field is to understand why dopamine neurons fail as opposed to others. We aim to address this question by analyzing known genetic risk factors and their signaling pathways both in vitro and in vivo at different parts of the brain. We also explore the synergistic effect of different synaptic PD variants and environmental factors (such as nicotine) and investigate how they integrate their signaling pathways to culminate in the dysfunction or protection of the dopamine neurons.