David Pennington, PhD

Assoc Professor In Residence
1 415 221-4810 ext. 24504

Dr. Pennington’s lab, Strengthening Neuro-Plasticity in Addiction Recovery (SPARC) focuses on using neurocognitive assessment and multimodal neuroimaging (functional MRI, structural MRI, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and diffusion-weighted imaging) to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms associated with recovery from alcohol and other substance use disorders (ASUD), and to evaluate how commonly co-occurring conditions among Veterans (traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic pain, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) further impact recovery in these neural systems. SPARC leverages this information toward the development, implementation, and evaluation of novel digital health interventions (virtual reality working memory retraining, alcohol and opioid approach bias modification, ecological momentary assessment) for remediating cognitive dysfunction associated with these co-occurring conditions.

Dr. Pennington is an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF, Clinical Research Psychologist and Associate Director of the Addiction Research Program at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System (SFVAHCS). Dr. Pennington is engaged in providing clinical research training in the underlying neurobiology of addiction and co-occurring disorders, biostatistical methodology and analyses, and neurocognitive assessment. As the Community Veteran Health Program Coordinator at SFVHACS, Dr. Pennington is also engaged in program development, evaluation, and overseeing the provision and supervision of health services, primarily to underserved rural Veterans. Dr. Pennington also serves on the Cognitive Remediation Neuroscience Interest Group of the International Society of Addiction Medicine tasked with informing the design of international multi-site trials of novel cognitive training methods in addiction treatment.


Dr. Pennington’s research is supported by a VA Clinical Science Research and Development, Career Development Award to investigate the efficacy and neural correlates of alcohol approach bias modification, a novel cognitive training paradigm designed to reduce heavy drinking in underserved Veterans with TBI. He holds a UCSF Resource Allocation Program, Under-Represented Faculty in Clinical and Translational Research Award to investigate the acceptability, feasibility, and efficacy of exercise combined with virtual reality working memory training to enhance cognitive function among heavy drinking Veterans with TBI. Dr. Pennington also has a Mary Anne Koda-Kimble Seed Award for Innovation to implement a fentanyl education program for patients engaged in SFVAHCS’s Opioid Treatment Program and a Marcus Program in Precision Medicine Innovation Award to assess neural mechanisms of opioid approach bias utilizing the latest technology developed through the BRAIN Initiative and Human Connectome projects (e.g. ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging) and to develop a novel opioid approach bias modification intervention to reduce problematic opioid use in Veterans with chronic pain.


As such, SPARC is poised to make new breakthroughs in the development of highly salient cognitive training paradigms to help reduce heavy drinking and problematic substance use in underserved patient populations. Through the support of a John A. Watson Faculty Scholars Diversity Award, Dr. Pennington will continue mentorship of trainees and faculty from under-represented populations. He will also continue his work in developing new treatment interventions for alcohol and substance use disorder to include safe and readily available pharmacological compounds (e.g., N-acetylcysteine), begin collection of preliminary data to evaluate the implementation of various digital health interventions for Native American Veterans, and continue his work developing cognitive training paradigms using novel virtual reality technology. This work will be completed through continued involvement with the Addiction Research Program at UCSF and implemented at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System.


N-acetylcysteine for smoking cessation among dual users of tobacco and cannabis: Protocol and rationale for a randomized controlled trial.

Contemporary clinical trials

Herbst ED, Pennington DL, Borsari B, Manuel J, Yalch M, Alcid E, Martinez Rivas M, Delacruz J, Rossi N, Garcia B, Wong N, Batki SL

Cognitive training and remediation interventions for substance use disorders: a Delphi consensus study.

Addiction (Abingdon, England)

Verdejo-Garcia A, Rezapour T, Giddens E, Khojasteh Zonoozi A, Rafei P, Berry J, Caracuel A, Copersino ML, Field M, Garland EL, Lorenzetti V, Malloy-Diniz L, Manning V, Marceau EM, Pennington DL, Strickland JC, Wiers R, Fairhead R, Anderson A, Bell M, Boendermaker WJ, Brooks S, Bruno R, Campanella S, Cousijn J, Cox WM, Dean AC, Ersche KD, Franken I, Froeliger B, Gamito P, Gladwin TE, Goncalves PD, Houben K, Jacobus J, Jones A, Kaag AM, Lindenmeyer J, McGrath E, Nardo T, Oliveira J, Pennington CR, Perrykkad K, Piercy H, Rupp CI, Schulte MHJ, Squeglia LM, Staiger P, Stein DJ, Stein J, Stein M, Stoops WW, Sweeney M, Witkiewitz K, Woods SP, Yi R, Zhao M, Ekhtiari H

Factors associated with smoking in low-income persons with and without chronic illness.

Tobacco induced diseases

Cano MT, Pennington DL, Reyes S, Pineda BS, Llamas JA, Periyakoil VS, Muñoz RF

Frontal Neural Activation During Alcohol Cue Exposure is Associated With Cognitive Bias Among Veterans With Alcohol Use Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Biological psychiatry

Erica Walker, Samantha Abram, Nicole Bautista, Monique Cano, Edith Harris, Hala El Bahraoui, Darin Witkovic, Jill Reavis, Steven Batki, Judith Ford, David Pennington

Evaluating implementation of a consult to reduce new combination opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy

Tessa Rife, Michelle Zhao, Jonathan Im, David Pennington

Working memory and alcohol demand relationships differ according to PTSD symptom severity among veterans with AUD.

Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology

Abram SV, Batki SL, Pennington DL

An initiative to increase opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution for homeless veterans residing in contracted housing facilities.

Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Rife T, Tat C, Jones J, Pennington DL

A randomized pilot trial of topiramate for alcohol use disorder in veterans with traumatic brain injury: Effects on alcohol use, cognition, and post-concussive symptoms.

Drug and alcohol dependence

Pennington DL, Bielenberg J, Lasher B, Herbst E, Abrams G, Novakovic-Agopian T, Batki SL

A Qualitative Examination of Stay Quit Coach, a Mobile Application for Veteran Smokers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco

Herbst E, McCaslin SE, Daryani SH, Laird KT, Hopkins LB, Pennington D, Kuhn E

A Roadmap for Integrating Neuroscience Into Addiction Treatment: A Consensus of the Neuroscience Interest Group of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.

Frontiers in psychiatry

Verdejo-Garcia A, Lorenzetti V, Manning V, Piercy H, Bruno R, Hester R, Pennington D, Tolomeo S, Arunogiri S, Bates ME, Bowden-Jones H, Campanella S, Daughters SB, Kouimtsidis C, Lubman DI, Meyerhoff DJ, Ralph A, Rezapour T, Tavakoli H, Zare-Bidoky M, Zilverstand A, Steele D, Moeller SJ, Paulus M, Baldacchino A, Ekhtiari H

Care of the Transgender Patient.

Annals of internal medicine

Herbst ED, Harris E, Pennington DL, Batki SL

T262. Working Memory Moderates Relations Between Alcohol Demand Characteristics, PTSD Arousal Symptoms and Alcohol Use.

Biological psychiatry

Samantha Abram, David Pennington, Jennifer Bielenberg, Lamisha Muquit, Monique Cano, Fleurette Fong, Nicole Bautista, Brooke Lasher, Steven Batki

Mobile Technology for Treatment Augmentation in Veteran Smokers With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

American journal of preventive medicine

Herbst E, Pennington D, Kuhn E, McCaslin SE, Delucchi K, Batki SL, Dickter B, Carmody T

Neurocognition and inhibitory control in polysubstance use disorders: Comparison with alcohol use disorders and changes with abstinence.

Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology

Schmidt TP, Pennington DL, Cardoos SL, Durazzo TC, Meyerhoff DJ

B-22Insomnia and Heavy Alcohol Use Synergistically Impact Cognitive Function in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology

E Tomlinson, D Pennington, T Wong, J Dack, J Bielenberg, L Hoyman, B Lasher, A Kinzler, S Batki

Smoking and non-alcohol substance use in veterans with PTSD and alcohol use disorder.

Drug and alcohol dependence

Steven L. Batki, David Pennington, Brooke Lasher, Ellen Herbst, Emily Schrodek, Seghel Yohannes, Jordan McDonald, Brandi Schmeling, Tiffany Wong

Effects of cigarette smoking history on neurocognitive recovery over 8 months of abstinence in alcohol-dependent individuals.

Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

Durazzo TC, Pennington DL, Schmidt TP, Meyerhoff DJ

A Controlled Trial of Topiramate Treatment for Alcohol Dependence in Veterans with PTSD.

Steven L Batki, David L Pennington, Thomas Neylan, Angela Waldrop

Structural brain differences in alcohol-dependent individuals with and without comorbid substance dependence.

Drug and alcohol dependence

Mon A, Durazzo TC, Abe C, Gazdzinski S, Pennington D, Schmidt T, Meyerhoff DJ

Genetic and behavioral determinants of hippocampal volume recovery during abstinence from alcohol.

Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)

Hoefer ME, Pennington DL, Durazzo TC, Mon A, Abé C, Truran D, Hutchison KE, Meyerhoff DJ

Topiramate treatment of alcohol use disorder in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial.

Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

Batki SL, Pennington DL, Lasher B, Neylan TC, Metzler T, Waldrop A, Delucchi K, Herbst E

Postural stability in cigarette smokers and during abstinence from alcohol.

Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

Schmidt TP, Pennington DL, Durazzo TC, Meyerhoff DJ

A Controlled Trial of Topiramate Treatment for Alcohol Dependence in Veterans with PTSD.

Steven L Batki, David L Pennington, Thomas Neylan, Angela Waldrop

Metabolic abnormalities in lobar and subcortical brain regions of abstinent polysubstance users: magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging.

Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire)

Abé C, Mon A, Hoefer ME, Durazzo TC, Pennington DL, Schmidt TP, Meyerhoff DJ

Neurocognition in 1-month-abstinent treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent individuals: interactive effects of age and chronic cigarette smoking.

Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

Durazzo TC, Pennington DL, Schmidt TP, Mon A, Abé C, Meyerhoff DJ

The effects of chronic cigarette smoking on cognitive recovery during early abstinence from alcohol.

Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research

Pennington DL, Durazzo TC, Schmidt TP, Mon A, Abé C, Meyerhoff DJ

Polysubstance and alcohol dependence: unique abnormalities of magnetic resonance-derived brain metabolite levels.

Drug and alcohol dependence

Abé C, Mon A, Durazzo TC, Pennington DL, Schmidt TP, Meyerhoff DJ