Michael Halassa, M.D., Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michael Halassa obtained his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania where he worked with Phil Haydon, a pioneer in the area of glial regulation of synaptic transmission. During his graduate work, he discovered that astrocytes regulate sleep rhythms and behavior, which constituted the first mechanistic description of a non-neuronal cellular contribution to animal behavior. Following the completion of his Ph.D., he moved to Boston, where he simultaneously underwent residency training in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and postdoctoral training in systems neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Working with Matt Wilson, he performed the first electrophysiological recordings of thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) neurons in the freely behaving mouse. In his own lab, they have continued to investigate the TRN in two important dimensions. First, they have shown that the TRN allows the brain to switch between attending to behaviorally-relevant inputs and suppressing distractors. Second, they are investigating how TRN circuits fail in disease. They have recently found that a number of human genetic disorders may preferentially impact TRN function, potentially explaining why these conditions are associated with sensory and attentional impairments.