Rita Gaspar

  • Reward
  • behavior
  • aversion
  • nucleus accumbens
  • neuronal circuits

I am a Research Assistant at the ICVS. I have a PhD in ageing and chronic diseases from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra which focused on studying the impact of microglia on susceptibility to depression and sex differences. Before PhD, I received two FCT Research Fellowships at the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics, Centre for Neurosciences and Cell Biology, Coimbra. My research has led to: i) discovery of the interaction between glucocorticoid receptors and adenosine A2A receptors and the potential therapeutic value of modulating adenosine A2A receptors activation to prevent glucocorticoid-induced alterations in developing neurons; ii) reinforcement of the link between microglia function and the control of mood and memory, emphasizing the importance of sex and brain region in the screening or design of novel therapeutic strategies targeting glial cells homeostasis to manage brain disorders; iii) unveiled that sex-specific differences in microglia plasticity induced by long-term stress exposure may anticipate differences in drug efficacy in the context of stress-induced anxiety- or depression-related behaviours. I have participated in several national and international meetings and I published some papers as first author and as co-author, in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I frequently engage in outreaching activities, namely Brain Awareness Week, European Researchers Night and educational activities for high school students and the general public to disseminate scientific knowledge and curiosity about science.

Scientific Highlights

1. Gaspar Rita, Soares-Cunha Carina, Domingues Ana Verónica, Coimbra Bárbara, Baptista Filipa I., Pinto Luísa, Ambrósio António F., Rodrigues Ana João, Gomes Catarina A. The Duration of Stress Determines Sex Specificities in the Vulnerability to Depression and in the Morphologic Remodeling of Neurons and Microglia. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2022 March 7; 16
2. Gaspar R, Soares-Cunha C, Domingues AV, Coimbra B, Baptista FI, Pinto L, Ambrósio AF, Rodrigues AJ, Gomes CA. Resilience to stress and sex-specific remodeling of microglia and neuronal morphology in a rat model of anxiety and anhedonia. Neurobiol Stress. 2021 Feb 2;14:100302
3. Soares-Cunha C, de Vasconcelos NAP, Coimbra B, Domingues AV, Silva JM, Loureiro-Campos E, Gaspar R, Sotiropoulos I, Sousa N, Rodrigues AJ. Nucleus accumbens medium spiny neurons subtypes signal both reward and aversion. Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;25(12):3241-3255
4. Duarte JM*, Gaspar R*, Caetano L, Patrício P, Soares-Cunha C, Mateus-Pinheiro A, Alves ND, Santos AR, Ferreira SG, Sardinha V, Oliveira JF, Fontes-Ribeiro C, Sousa N, Cunha RA, Ambrósio AF, Pinto L, Rodrigues AJ, Gomes CA. Brain region-specific control of microglia morphology by adenosine A2A receptors. Glia. 2019 Jan;67(1):182-192. (*equal authorship).
5. Pinheiro H*, Gaspar R*, Baptista FI, Fontes-Ribeiro CA, Ambrósio AF, Gomes CA. Adenosine A2A Receptor Blockade Modulates Glucocorticoid-Induced Morphological Alterations in Axons, But Not in Dendrites, of Hippocampal Neurons. Front Pharmacol. 2018 Mar 19;9:219. (*equal authorship).

Awards and Honors:
2015-2020 – PhD Fellowship, granted by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT; PD/BD/114116/2015)
2018 – Travel grant to attend FENS, granted by SPN
2018 – Travel grant to attend Microglia Workshop, granted by EMBL
2019 – Grant to attend SPN, granted by SPN
2021 – Grant to attend SPN, granted by SPN



Sensory signals of associative learning

Through evolution, animals gained the remarkable ability to respond with sub second precision to environmental stimuli and to learn to associate those with positive or negative outcomes…

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