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Stephen J Smith, Ph.D., comes to the Allen Institute from the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he held a professorship in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology. Previously, he was on the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine, supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He pioneered methods for the measurement and modeling of intracellular calcium signals and for digital optical imaging of living neurons and neural circuits. Key discoveries resulting from his work include calcium signaling by NMDA receptors, the existence of astrocytic calcium waves, and the active roles of dendritic filopodia in initiating synapse formation. Each of these discoveries opened broad new fields of investigation, and the NMDA calcium signal is now recognized as the fundamental trigger to most known forms of synaptic memory storage and neural plasticity.
Smith’s recent research focus has been on understanding the diverse ways in which different types of neurons signal one another at synapses, and how the rich diversity of those synaptic connections contribute to the brain’s remarkable information processing capacities. Advances in understanding “synaptomes”— systematic compilations of diverse synapse functional and molecular characteristics—will build directly on the existing Cell Types and Connectivity programs at the Allen Institute, which aim to create comprehensive catalogs of all the types of neurons and synaptic connections in the human cortex.