Distinguished Seminar Series

The Distinguished Seminar Series features presentations by outstanding thinkers and scientists, sponsored by the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Distinguished speakers are selected based on the impact of their interdisciplinary research to the neuroscience community. Speakers spend a full day visiting with research staff, are nominated by members of the Allen Institute, and selected by a committee of peers.

We welcome members of the broader community to join us for these open seminars. See below for a schedule of upcoming speakers and view video presentations from past speakers. Register for the upcoming seminars below.

upcoming speakers     past speakers

Please contact with any questions.

Distinguished Seminars will return in 2023.

Brian Dias | October 26, 2022

Understanding and breaking legacies of stress

Historical events have generated data indicating that stressors experienced by populations, affect not only the individuals directly exposed to them, but also descendants. My talk will shed light on the nature and mechanisms by which legacies of stress perpetuate across generations, and how we may begin to break them.

Brian Dias is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine and directs a research laboratory in the Developmental Neuroscience & Neurogenetics Program at The Saban Research Institute, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Dias’ research seeks to understand how mammalian neurobiology, physiology and reproductive biology is impacted by stress or trauma, and how parental legacies of stress or trauma influence offspring. Armed with this understanding, Dr. Dias and his team aim to inform therapeutic and policy interventions to ameliorate the effects of stress or trauma in both, ancestral and descendant populations. Toward this goal, Dr. Dias uses molecular, cellular, genetic, epigenetic, physiological, and behavioral approaches to investigate how the biology of an organism and its responsiveness to stress or trauma is influenced by micro- (genome, epigenome and hormones), and macro-environments (ancestral, in utero and post-natal experiences). Among other outlets, Dr. Dias’ work has been featured in Nature, on the BBC, and in a list of the 10 Most Important Discoveries of 2014 published by La Recherche Magazine. Most recently, he was quoted about the legacy of trauma (BBC), the neurobiology of family separation (BrainFacts), and gave a TEDx talk on Halting Legacies of Trauma. In 2017, Dr. Dias was awarded a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar Award (competitive awards given to exceptional early career investigators from around the world by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and is currently a Fellow in CIFAR’s Child & Brain Development Program. In 2019, Dr. Dias was selected to be part of the Young Leader network at the Science & Technology in Society Forum in Kyoto, Japan (an invitation-only forum that includes world leaders and diplomats discussing how science and technology can address roadblocks to human progress). In addition to his research, Dr. Dias is interested in education and knowledge mobilization. This interest has seen Dr. Dias participate in Sci-Foo Camp at Google – an invitation-only ideas festival that is often described as a mini-Woodstock of ideas. Dr. Dias is a faculty member of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative, teaches Neuroscience to Tibetan Buddhist monastics, and participated on a panel discussing “Consciousness” with scholars that included the Dalai Lama. More information is available at his lab website.



Corey Harwell | September 14, 2022

Development and neural diversity of septal nuclei

Septal nuclei in the basal forebrain have critical roles in regulating emotional states including fear, anxiety, and aggression. Dysfunction of septal neurons is thought to play a significant role in the pathophysiology of a variety of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. The septum can be classified into medial (MS)and lateral (LS) regions. The medial septum is composed of cholinergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons that primarily project to the hippocampus. The lateral septum is composed of a diverse array of GABAergic projection neurons that have reciprocal connections with numerous brain regions known to regulate emotional and motivational states. It is currently unclear how septal neuronal diversity and circuit wiring are specified during development. Using molecular genetics and single-cell/nuclei RNA-seq we have begun to unravel the developmental logic for producing diverse neural cell types in the septum. Our future work is focused on understanding the specific contribution of developmentally specified neural cell types in the regulation of internal states carried out by the septum.

Corey Harwell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the production and assembly of circuits in the developing brain. Over the course of development numerous molecules are re-purposed to function in distinct cellular contexts. This is particularly evident during nervous system development, where cellular functions change drastically during maturation of the earliest born neurons and the establishment and then refinement of their synaptic connections. In his current work, he is taking a multi-disciplinary research strategy to identify the developmental mechanisms that regulate neural diversity and circuity assembly in the mammalian forebrain.



Paul Cisek | June 8, 2022

The neural mechanisms of real-time decisions

Psychological and neurophysiological studies of decision-making have focused primarily on scenarios in which subjects are faced with abstract choices that are stable in time. This has led to serial models which begin with the representation of relevant information about costs and benefits, followed by careful deliberation about the choice, followed by action planning and execution. However, the brain evolved to interact with a dynamic and constantly changing world, in which the choices themselves as well as their relative costs and benefits are defined by the momentary geometry of the immediate environment and are continuously changing during ongoing activity. To deal with the demands of real-time interactive behavior, animals require a neural architecture in which the sensorimotor specification of potential actions, their valuation, selection, and even execution can all take place in parallel. I will describe a general hypothesis for how the brain deals with the challenges of such dynamic and embodied behavior, and present the results of a series of behavioral and neurophysiological experiments in which humans and monkeys make decisions on the basis of sensory information that changes over time. These experiments suggest that sensory information pertinent to decisions is processed quickly and combined with a growing signal related to the urge to act, and the result biases a competition between potential actions that takes place within the same sensorimotor circuits that guide action.

Paul Cisek is a full professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Montreal. He has a background in computer science and artificial intelligence, doctoral training in computational neuroscience with Stephen Grossberg and Daniel Bullock, and postdoctoral training in neurophysiological recording in non-human primates with Stephen Scott and John Kalaska. His work combines these techniques into an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how the brain controls our interactions with the world. In particular, his theoretical work suggests that the brain is organized as a system of parallel sensorimotor streams that have been differentiated and elaborated over millions of years of evolution, and his empirical work investigates the neural dynamics of how potential actions are specified and how they compete in the cortical and subcortical circuits of humans and other primates.



Ilana Witten | May 10, 2022

Mapping learning & decision-making algorithms onto brain circuitry

In the first part of my talk, I will discuss our recent work on the midbrain dopamine system. The hypothesis that midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons broadcast an error signal for the prediction of reward is among the great successes of computational neuroscience. However, our recent results contradict a core aspect of this theory: that the neurons uniformly convey a scalar, global signal. I will review this work, as well as our new efforts to update models of the neural basis of reinforcement learning with our data. In the second part of my talk, I will discuss our recent findings of state-dependent decision-making mechanisms in the striatum.

Ilana Witten is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University. She was first introduced to neuroscience as an undergraduate physics major, when she studied neural coding in the retina with Michael Berry at Princeton. She then moved to Stanford to pursue a PhD in neuroscience, where she worked in the systems neuroscience lab of Eric Knudsen. As a postdoctoral fellow, she worked with Karl Deisseroth in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford, developing and applying optogenetic tools to dissect the neuromodulatory control of reward behavior in rodents. Since 2012, her lab at the Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology at Princeton has focused on understanding the circuitry in the striatum that support reward learning and decision making. She has received multiple awards for her work, including an NIH New Innovator Award, a Mcknight Scholars Award, and the Daniel X Freedman Prize.



Mackenzie Mathis | April 27, 2022

Towards understanding neural dynamics underlying biological adaptive intelligence

Prof. Mackenzie Mathis is the Bertarelli Foundation Chair of Integrative Neuroscience and an Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL). Following the award of her PhD at Harvard University in 2017 with Prof. Naoshige Uchida, she was awarded the prestigious Rowland Fellowship at Harvard to start her independent laboratory (2017-2020). Before starting her group, she worked with Prof. Matthias Bethge at the University of Tübingen in the summer of 2017 with the support of the Women & the Brain Project ALS Fellowship. She is an ELLIS Scholar, a former NSF Graduate Fellow, and her work has been featured in the news at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nature, and The Atlantic. She was awarded the FENS EJN Young Investigator Prize 2022.

Her lab works on mechanisms underlying adaptive behavior in intelligent systems. Specifically, the laboratory combines machine learning, computer vision, and experimental work in rodents with the combined goal of understanding the neural basis of adaptive motor control. More information is available at her lab website.

A central quest in neuroscience is the neural origin of behavior. As our ability to record large neural and behavioral data increases, there is growing interest in modeling neural dynamics during adaptive behaviors to probe neural representations. Yet, we are still limited in both the number of neurons and length of time we can record from behaving animals in a session. Therefore, we need new methods that can combine data across animals and sessions with minimal assumptions, and generate interpretable neural embedding spaces. Moreover, we need tools to measure behavior robustly. In my talk I will discuss how we approach understanding neural dynamics during sensorimotor learning by developing deep learning tools for behavioral and neural analysis. While these tools apply to a broad range of systems--from cheetahs to mice, spikes to calcium--I will highlight our ongoing work on adaptive motor control in mice.

Kenneth D. Harris | March 24, 2022

A transcriptomic axis predicts state modulation of cortical interneurons

Transcriptomics has revealed the exquisite diversity of cortical inhibitory neurons, but it is not known whether these fine molecular subtypes have correspondingly diverse activity patterns in the living brain. Here, we show that inhibitory subtypes in primary visual cortex (V1) have diverse correlates with brain state, but that this diversity is organized by a single factor: position along their main axis of transcriptomic variation. We combined in vivo 2-photon calcium imaging of mouse V1 with a novel transcriptomic method to identify mRNAs for 72 selected genes in ex vivo slices. We used previously-defined transcriptomic clusters (Tasic et al, Nature 2018) to classify inhibitory neurons imaged in layers 1-3 into a three-level hierarchy of 5 Families, 11 Types, and 35 Subtypes. Visual responses differed significantly only across Families, with the Sncg Family showing notable suppression by visual stimuli. Modulation by brain state differed at all hierarchical levels, but a cell type’s brain state modulation and correlations with simultaneously recorded cells could be largely predicted from a single transcriptomic axis, the first transcriptomic principal component. Inhibitory Subtypes that fired more in resting, oscillatory brain states had narrower spikes, lower input resistance, weaker adaptation, and less axon in layer 1 as determined in vitro (Gouwens et al Cell 2020); Subtypes firing more during arousal had the opposite properties. The former Subtypes express more inhibitory cholinergic receptors, and the latter more excitatory cholinergic receptors in single-cell data. Thus, a simple principle may largely explain how diverse inhibitory V1 Subtypes shape state-dependent cortical processing.

Kenneth D. Harris studied mathematics at Cambridge University, did a PhD in robotics at UCL, then moved to Rutgers University in the United States for postdoctoral work in neuroscience. Before returning to UCL in 2012, he was Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers, and Professor of Neurotechnology at Imperial College London. He is currently Professor of Quantitative Neuroscience in the UCL Institute of Neurology. Together with Matteo Carandini he directs the Cortexlab.



Nii Addy | January 20, 2022

L-type calcium channel regulation of dopamine and motivated behavior in preclinical models of substance use and mood disorders

Dr. Addy’s research focuses on the neurobiological processes underlying substance use disorders, mood disorders, and comorbid substance use and mood disorders. Dr. Addy’s team uses multiple methodologies, including behavioral paradigms such as intravenous drug self-administration, acute and chronic stress paradigms, and anxiety and amotivation paradigms, along with integrated pharmacological, in vivo electrochemical, and in vivo optogenetic methods to investigate these mechanisms. Dr. Addy will present his preclinical findings, revealing cholinergic and L-type calcium channel processes in the mesolimbic dopamine reward system that robustly mediate substance use and mood disorder behavioral phenotypes through regulation of dopaminergic activity. Dr. Addy will also describe ongoing work with potential therapeutic compounds, targeting subtype-specific muscarinic receptors and L-type calcium channels. Finally, he will describe upcoming clinical collaborative studies, based on his team’s recent preclinical findings.

Nii Addy is the Albert E. Kent Professor of Psychiatry and an Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Addy is also the inaugural Director of Scientist Diversity and Inclusion at the Yale School of Medicine, focusing on supporting the faculty development of basic scientists from underrepresented groups at the School of Medicine. In addition to his campus work, Dr. Addy hosts the Addy Hour podcast, discussing topics at the intersection of neuroscience, mental health, faith, culture and social justice. More information is available at his lab website.



Andrea Gomez | October 28, 2021

Alternative splicing choices for synaptic function

Alternative RNA splicing has the potential to expand the coding power of the genome; yet, it is unclear how alternative splicing tunes molecular complexity for selective circuit function. We discovered that Slm2 - an RNA-binding protein - drives a highly dedicated alternative splicing program that targets a devoted splice segment of synaptic adhesion molecules. Isoforms generated by Slm2-dependent splicing are essential for the specification of glutamatergic synapses in the hippocampus. Our data reveals that alternative splicing is a potent mechanism for neurons to generate and control the large variability observed in its synaptic interactions.

Andrea Gomez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Gomez received her Ph.D. in Developmental Genetics from New York University and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Her work is devoted to understanding the instructive cues that sculpt patterns of brain activity. Her efforts led to the discovery of RNA-based programs that are critical for synaptic organization and plasticity. Gomez started her lab at UC Berkeley in 2020 and has received several awards, including the European Molecular Biology Organization Advanced Fellowship, a Rennie Fund Fellow, a C.J. Herrick Early-Career Investigator, and is a Brain and Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator.

Andrea Gomez is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley. More information is available at her lab website.



Kay Tye | September 16, 2021

Neural Representations of Social Homeostasis​

How does our brain rapidly determine if something is good or bad? How do we know our place within a social group? How do we know how to behave appropriately in dynamic environments with ever-changing conditions?

The Tye Lab is interested in understanding how neural circuits important for driving positive and negative motivational valence (seeking pleasure or avoiding punishment) are anatomically, genetically and functionally arranged. We study the neural mechanisms that underlie a wide range of behaviors ranging from learned to innate, including social, feeding, reward-seeking and anxiety-related behaviors. We have also become interested in “social homeostasis” -- how our brains establish a preferred set-point for social contact, and how this maintains stability within a social group. How are these circuits interconnected with one another, and how are competing mechanisms orchestrated on a neural population level? We employ optogenetic, electrophysiological, electrochemical, pharmacological and imaging approaches to probe these circuits during behavior.

Kay Tye is a Professor and Wylie Vale Chair at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies. More information is available at her lab website.



Lin Tian | July 22, 2021

Watching the brain in action: creating tools for functional analysis of neural circuitry

To study the neural circuitry, the action of one cells under the context of others, one would precisely measure and perturb specific neuronal populations and molecules in behaving animals who are specifically engaged in performing the computation or function of interest. The dataset of millions of neurons firing together underlying a behavior are required to develop and refine theories (hypotheses) explaining animal behavior in terms of brain physiology. The focus of lab is to develop novel genetically encoded indicators based on fluorescence proteins, especially focusing on direct and specific measurement of myriad input signals with needed spatial and temporal resolutions. In this talk, I will discuss our recent progress into develop and apply a new suite of genetically encoded indicators of neural activity. I will discuss the design, characterization and applications of these genetically encoded indicators for both in vivo imaging and drug discovery. In combination with calcium imaging and optogenetics, these sensors are well poised to permit direct functional analysis of how the spatiotemporal coding of neural input signaling mediates the plasticity and function of target circuits.

Dr. Tian holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology from Northwestern University. She completed postdoctoral training at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, where she developed a toolbox of ultrasensitive neural activity sensors that have been widely utilized. She established her own lab at UC davis in 2012. Her current work is a combination of neural activity sensor development and applications in health and disease. Recently, Dr. Tian’s lab developed a suite of fluorescence sensors for dopamine and other monoamines to enable ultrafast neuronal imaging of neuromodulator dynamics in vivo, which opened new doors for imaging beyond spikes. Tian has received the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, Human Frontier Science Program Young Investigator Awards, Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Research Award and NIH BRAIN Initiative grants. More information is available at her lab website.



Gáspár Jékely | June 10, 2021

Whole-body connectomics and the study of motor control in larval Platynereis

We are interested in how whole-body neural circuits coordinate the movement of an animal body. To understand this, we study the experimentally accessible and small larval stages of the marine annelid Platynereis. The nereid has recently emerged as a powerful new experimental system for neural circuits and development. With serial electron microscopy, we have reconstructed the entire nervous and effector systems of the larva. Through activity imaging, behavioural experiments, transgenes and CRISPR manipulations we can link genes to neurons and behaviours. In the talk I will discuss the coordination of locomotor cilia, the startle circuit and the postural control system of the larva. The nereid is an ideal system for connectome mapping and experiments and offers a fresh perspective on how the brain coordinates an entire body.

Gaspar Jékely is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Exeter, which he joined in 2017. Since 2019 he is a Wellcome Trust senior investigator. More information is available on his lab website.



Liqun Luo | May 20, 2021

Wiring specificity of neural circuits

Developing brains utilize a limited number of molecules to specify connection specificity of a much larger number of neurons and synapses. How is this feat achieved? In this talk, I will first discuss our work using the Drosophila olfactory circuit as a model to address this question. I will then discuss analogous functions of some of the wiring molecules we identified in the fly olfactory circuits also in determining wiring specificity of complex circuits in the mammalian brain, focusing on the hippocampal network.

Dr. Luo is currently the Ann and Bill Swindells Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Professor of Biology, and Professor of Neurobiology by courtesy at Stanford University, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He earned his bachelor's degree in molecular biology from the University of Science and Technology of China. After obtaining his PhD in Brandeis University, and postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Luo started his own lab in the Department of Biology, Stanford University in December 1996. Together with his postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, Dr. Luo studies how neural circuits are organized to perform specific functions in adults, and how they are assembled during development.



Bence Ölveczky | March 31, 2021

Neural circuits underlying motor skill learning and execution

This talk will introduce a motor skill learning paradigm that trains stereotyped complex motor sequences in rodents. By recording and manipulating neural activity in the basal ganglia, motor cortex and thalamus, we delineate the logic by which these circuits work together to promote the acquisition and control of task-specific motor sequences. I will also talk about recent work we have done to probe how the brain controls naturalistic movements across behavioral contexts.

Bence Ölveczky is a Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. More information is available on his lab website.


Surya Ganguli, Stanford University | January 19, 2021

Theoretical and computational approaches to neuroscience with complex models in high dimensions across multiple timescales: from perception to motor control and learning

Remarkable advances in experimental neuroscience now enable us to simultaneously observe the activity of many neurons, thereby providing an opportunity to understand how the moment by moment collective dynamics of the brain instantiates learning and cognition.  However, efficiently extracting such a conceptual understanding from large, high dimensional neural datasets requires concomitant advances in theoretically driven experimental design, data analysis, and neural circuit modeling. We will discuss how the modern frameworks of high dimensional statistics and deep learning can aid us in this process. In particular we will discuss: (1) how unsupervised tensor component analysis and time warping can extract unbiased and interpretable descriptions of how rapid single trial circuit dynamics change slowly over many trials to mediate learning;(2) how to tradeoff very different experimental resources, like numbers of recorded neurons and trials to accurately discover the structure of collective dynamics and information in the brain, even without spike sorting; (3) deep learning models that accurately capture the retina’s response to natural scenes as well as its internal structure and function; (4) algorithmic approaches for simplifying deep network models of perception; (5) optimality approaches to explain cell-type diversity in the first steps of vision in the retina.

Surya Ganguli is an Associate Professor of Applied Physics at Stanford University. More information is available on his lab website.



Aman Saleem, University College London | December 2, 2020

Vision in Action: Visual processing in active behaviours

Aman Saleem is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Associate Professor and at University College London. The Saleem Lab focuses on understanding the visual system during active behaviours, particularly naturalistic behaviours such as locomotion and navigation. More information is available at his lab website.

Much of our everyday visual experience is based on our movements through the world, when we navigate between different places - from within a room, to between cities. Is visual function the same during navigation? We asked this using a virtual reality environment, where we presented identical visual stimuli in different locations and asked if spatial position modulates activity in the visual system. We found that activity in the primary visual cortex (V1) is strongly modulated by spatial position, and this modulation persists across higher visual areas in the cortex. However, this modulation is not present in the inputs to the visual cortex from the lateral geniculate nucleus. Furthermore, the spatial modulation of visual responses is stronger when animals actively navigate, rather than passively view the environment. Our results suggest that the spatial modulation of visual information arises in V1 with active navigation. We have also been investigating feedback inputs to V1, and visual responses to optic flow stimuli. The Saleem Lab has also developed an open-source software paradigm, BonVision, that can both present both 2D and 3D stimuli in a common framework, while maintaining the precision and replicability of standardised visual experiments.




Anatol Kreitzer, the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and the University of California, San Francisco | October 1, 2020

Mapping the functional connectivity of motor thalamus

Classical models of basal ganglia propose bidirectional regulation of thalamocortical motor circuitry, yet the principles of motor thalamus function are not well understood. We developed methods to record from basal ganglia-recipient thalamic neurons in awake behaving mice and assess their functional connectivity with the cortex. Using forelimb position during locomotion as a primary behavioral readout, we identified robust modulation of thalamic firing during locomotor stride, which varied depending on cortical projection target. Thalamic neurons projecting to anterior cortex (M2) showed less stride modulation, whereas thalamic neurons projecting more caudally (S1/M1) were more strongly stride modulated. Stride modulation of cortical units followed a similar pattern, and stride modulation in basal ganglia-recipient thalamus was largely dependent on cortical input. Together, our data argue for multiple, segregated loops between basal ganglia recipient motor thalamus and cortex, which are driven largely by cortical activity.

Anatol Kreitzer is a Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and a Professor of Physiology and Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. More information is available at his lab website.



Bang Wong, Broad Institute | February 20, 2020

Visual approaches to exploring and explaining data

Data drive scientific discovery – but only if they make sense. As the pace at which we generate data increases, there is a need to find new and innovative ways to handle the volume and complexity of the information. Visual representation has proven to be an effective tool for exploring data and explaining research results. While each goal entails different approaches to data presentation, design decisions that take advantage of our innate physiological wiring to improve perception of data will be important to both. I will present work from the Pattern Design Group at Broad Institute and our strategy for making data more accessible, comprehensible, and useful.

Bang Wong is the creative director and staff scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. His work focuses on developing data visualization methods and techniques to understand biomedical research data. He has written over 35 articles published by Nature Methods on the fundamental aspects of visual representation. Bang is a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow and a faculty member in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. More information is available at his website.



Erich D. Jarvis, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and The Rockefeller University | January 17, 2020

Molecular convergence in brain regions for song learning in birds and spoken language in humans

Dr. Jarvis seeks to know how the brain generates, perceives, and learns behavior. He and his colleagues use vocal communication as a model behavior. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. Dr. Jarvis uses an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological, and molecular biological techniques. The main focus of study is songbirds, representing one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function.

Erich D. Jarvis is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor at The Rockefeller University. More information is available at his lab website. His research using the Allen Brain Map was recently profiled here.



Carlos Brody, Princeton University | December 11, 2019

Collicular circuits for executive control

Carlos Brody's research concentrates on collicular contributions to decision-making and developing computational models of the circuit. How do we control routing of information within our brains? Brody's lab has studied this by adapting a well-studied primate rule-learning task to rodents requiring the subject to orient to a cue. They have found that, during the delay period, deep layer neurons of the superior colliculus (SC) encode the task rule, and after the cue is presented, they encode the side of the animal’s upcoming orienting choice. However, optogenetic inactivation of the SC during the choice formation period had no effect on choices. His lab uses computational models to ask whether dynamics in a network of SC neurons could account for all these data together. By repeatedly fitting model parameters, starting from many different initial conditions, they found a diverse set of models that were consistent with the data. These electrophysiological, optogenetic, and computational modeling data strongly constrain the collicular circuit motifs that underlie the SC’s contribution to executive control.

Carlos Brody is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is the Wilbur H. Gantz III '59 Professor in Neuroscience at Princeton University. His lab has been pushing the envelope on the complexity of cognitive tasks that rodents can perform, and has been using these tasks, together with computational and experimental approaches, to study the neural mechanisms underlying cognition.



Alcino Silva, University of California, Los Angeles | November 21, 2019

Molecular, cellular, and circuit mechanisms that open and close the window for memory linking across time

Studies of the molecular, cellular and circuit mechanisms of learning and memory have focused almost exclusively on how single memories are acquired, stored and edited. By comparison, very little is known about the mechanisms that integrate and link memories across time. Recently, we have used state of the art in vivo imaging methods, chemogenetic and optogenetic approaches in the hippocampus and retrosplinial cortex, to uncover mechanisms that open and close the window for memory linking across time. Interestingly, we showed that aging disrupts these mechanisms and that this results in age dependent decline in memory linking. Importantly, studies in our laboratory have also identified strategies to rescue these deficits.

Alcino J. Silva is director of the UCLA Integrative Center for Learning and Memory and Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Neurobiology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a pioneer in the field of Molecular and Cellular Cognition. In 2002, he founded and became the first President of the Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society. In 2006/2007 he served as Scientific Director of the Intramural Program of the National Institute of Mental Health.



Danielle Bassett, University of Pennsylvania | October 30, 2019

Perturbation and Control for Human Brain Network Dynamics

The human brain is a complex organ characterized by heterogeneous patterns of interconnections. New non-invasive imaging techniques now allow for these patterns to be carefully and comprehensively mapped in individual humans, paving the way for a better understanding of how wiring supports our thought processes. While a large body of work now focuses on descriptive statistics to characterize these wiring patterns, a critical open question lies in how the organization of these networks constrains the potential repertoire of brain dynamics. This talk covers an approach for understanding how perturbations to brain dynamics propagate through complex wiring patterns, driving the brain into new states of activity. Drawing on a range of disciplinary tools – from graph theory to network control theory and optimization – Dr. Bassett covers control points in brain networks, trajectories of brain activity states following perturbation to those points, and proposes a mechanism for how network control evolves in our brains as we grow from children into adults. 

Danielle S Bassett is the J Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with affiliations in the Departments of Bioengineering, Physics & Astronomy, Electrical & Systems Engineering, Neurology, and Psychiatry. She is also an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.



Nelson Spruston, HHMI Janelia Research Campus | September 12, 2019

Deciphering the function of specific cell types in memory circuits

A major goal of biology is to understand complex physiological systems in terms of their cell types. What are the cell types? How do their properties and interrelationships allow the system to function? Our progress toward understanding hippocampus-dependent spatial memory in the mouse includes our efforts to provide unified descriptions of hippocampal cell types based on gene expression, morphology, circuit integration, and cellular function. This approach has allowed us to make new discoveries about hippocampal cell types and begin to explore cell-type-specific contributions to spatial memory, and we continue to develop a better understanding of the cellular and circuit basis of spatial memory.

Nelson Spruston is the Senior Director of Scientific Programs at the Janelia Research Campus, where he leads the Science and Training team. The group coordinates a number of science-related operations at Janelia. Spruston also oversees the Gene-Targeting and Transgenics resource. Spruston's lab explores the role of the hippocampus in learning and memory with an emphasis on the properties of a diverse collection of cell types.



Karen Rommelfanger, Emory University | July 18, 2019

No longer unthinkable: Neuroethics questions for the 21st century neuroscientist

Some have dubbed our current moment as the “Golden Era of Brain Science” wherein the revolution in neuroscience has prompted scientists to ask questions that were once unthinkable. Advances in neuroscience proffer new insights into fundamental and precious features of human existence such as memories, desires, emotion, and even demarcations of life and death. Such scientific promise is not just a matter of knowledge and health, but also of commerce and national pride. Our ever-expanding global neuroscience landscape requires that we, as a society and as scientists, consider the underlying values and ethics that drive brain research across culture and continents.

Karen Rommelfanger is the Program Director of Emory University’s Neuroethics Program at the Center for Ethics and Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Department of Psychiatry at Emory University.

Ivan Soltesz, Stanford University | April 24, 2019

Organization and Control of Hippocampal Circuits

Ivan Soltesz Ph.D. is the James R. Doty Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He received his doctorate in Budapest, and conducted postdoctoral research at Oxford, London, Stanford and Dallas. He established his laboratory at UC Irvine in 1995, where he served as department Chair from 2006 until his return to Stanford in 2015. His lab is interested in the nature of inhibition in the CNS, focusing on the synaptic and cellular organization of GABAergic microcircuits in the hippocampus under normal conditions and in temporal lobe epilepsy. Dr. Soltesz’ lab employs a combination of closely integrated experimental and theoretical techniques, including closed-loop optogenetics, in vivo electrophysiology and 2P calcium imaging, AI-aided segmentation of behavior, and large-scale computational modeling methods using supercomputers. He wrote an acclaimed book on GABAergic microcircuits “Diversity in the Neuronal Machine”, and he is the recipient of several awards, including the Javits Neuroscience award from NINDS, the international Michael Prize for basic epilepsy research, and the American Epilepsy Society’s Research Recognition Award.

Sebastian Seung, Princeton University | January 10, 2019

Models of cortical learning are constrained by functional connectomics

Sebastian Seung is Anthony B. Evnin Professor in the Neuroscience Institute and Computer Science Department at Princeton University, and Chief Research Scientist at Samsung Electronics.  Seung has done influential research in both computer science and neuroscience. Over the past decade, he helped pioneer the new field of connectomics, applying deep learning and crowdsourcing to reconstruct neural circuits from electron microscopic images. His lab created, a site that has recruited over 250,000 players from 150 countries to a game to map neural connections. His book Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as Top Ten Nonfiction of 2012.  Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2014, Seung studied at Harvard University, worked at Bell Laboratories, and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He is External Member of the Max Planck Society, and winner of the 2008 Ho-Am Prize in Engineering.





Yang Dan, University of California, Berkeley | November 16, 2018

Neural Circuits Controlling Sleep

Yang Dan is Paul Licht Distinguished Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. She studied physics as an undergraduate student at Peking University and received her Ph.D. training in Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where she worked on cellular mechanisms of neurotransmitter secretion and synaptic plasticity. She did her postdoctoral research on information coding in the visual system at Rockefeller University and Harvard Medical School. Using a combination of electrophysiology, imaging, and computational methods, Dan’s lab has made important contributions to understanding the microcircuits underlying cortical computation, cellular mechanisms for functional plasticity, and neuromodulation of sensory processing.

Jessica Cardin, Yale University | October 9, 2018

State-dependent cortical circuits

Dr. Cardin is an associate professor of neuroscience at the Yale University School of Medicine, where her lab studies the flexible function of cortical circuits in health and developmental disease. Her lab at Yale uses a multilevel electrophysiological and optical approach to explore the dynamic interactions between inhibitory and excitatory neurons that underlie the flexible encoding of visual information in cortical circuits, and how cortical circuit function varies with behavioral state and learning. The Cardin lab also studies how developmental dysregulation of cortical circuits leads to compromised perceptual and cognitive function in models of autism and schizophrenia.

Li-Huei Tsai, Massachusetts Institute of Technology | September 20, 2018

Transcriptomic analysis of Alzheimer's disease at the single cell resolution

Professor Li-­Huei Tsai is Director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Picower Professor of Neuroscience, and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute. Tsai is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the National Academy of Medicine, and an Academician of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. 

Tsai is interested in elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurological disorders that impact learning and memory. She takes a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the molecular, systems, and circuit basis of neurodegenerative disorders. Recent contributions include the identification of chromatin remodeling as a means to regulate memory gene expression and enhance cognitive function during neurodegeneration. Her lab also conducts epigenomic analysis of mouse and human Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain samples and has identified important contributions of dysregulated immune response genes in AD. Currently, the Tsai lab uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from human subjects to model AD and large scale imaging, optogenetics, and in vivo electrophysiology to study the brain circuitry affected by AD. Recently, she and her colleagues invented a non-­‐invasive sensory stimulation technology that proved effective in reducing AD pathology on animal models.

Kenneth Harris, University College London | April 27, 2018

Brain-wide patterns of neural activity underlying a visual decision task

Professor Harris studied mathematics at Cambridge University, obtained his PhD in robotics at University College London, then moved to Rutgers University in the United States for postdoctoral work in neuroscience. Before returning to UCL in 2012, he was Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers, and Professor of Neurotechnology at Imperial College London. Together with Matteo Carandini, he directs the Functional Neuromics Lab at UCL, which aims to understand how the brain processes sensory signals, and integrates them with internal signals to guide decision and action. The lab investigates these questions with a combination of experiment and computational analysis.

Hillel Adesnik, University of California, Berkeley | March 2, 2018

Optically probing the neural basis of perception

Dr. Adesnik is an assistant professor of neurobiology at UC Berkeley, where his labs studies the neural basis of sensory perception. He obtained a PhD from UCSF in synaptic physiology with Roger Nicoll, and did his postdoctoral fellowhsip at UCSD with Massimo Scanziani where he studied the structure and function of cortical inhibitory circuits. His lab at Berkeley develops and leverages novel optical tools to manipulate neural activity in the brains of behaving animals to understand the synaptic and circuit basis of neural computation in the sensory cortex.

Hilton Lewis, W. M. Keck Observatory | February 9, 2018

Sociology of the Astronomy Community - Organization and Challenges

As Director, Lewis is responsible for the operation and performance of the observatory with its twin 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes, and for the development of new capabilities. Lewis works closely with the staff, partner institutions and scientists to ensure the continued success of the Keck Observatory and foster the development of its scientific capabilities and overall productivity. 

Lewis was recruited in 1986 to lead the design and development of the software that controls the Keck Observatory’s twin, 10-meter telescopes. He has held many leadership roles throughout the history of the Observatory, ranging from leading software development to overseeing the full range of technical activities at the observatory.

Lewis holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town and earned his MBA from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. His professional interests include leadership and motivation of high tech teams, strategic planning, multiple-year plan design, and effective project planning and execution.

Lewis has dedicated his career to building, operating and updating the most sophisticated ground- based optical/infrared telescopes in the world, a commitment that has contributed to the unprecedented astronomical innovation and forefront science of the W. M. Keck Observatory.