A portrait of Earl Miller

Earl K. Miller

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Investigator in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Contact Info

Office: 46-6241
Phone: 617-252-1584

Administrative Assistant

Meredith Mahnke
Office: 46-6241
Phone: 617-252-1790

Neural Basis of Memory and Cognition
Interests in the Miller laboratory center around the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. Much effort is directed at the prefrontal cortex, a cortical region at the anterior end of the brain that is greatly enlarged in primates, especially humans. The prefrontal cortex has long been known to play a central role in cognition. Its damage or dysfunction disrupts the ability to ignore distractions, hold important information “in mind”, plan behavior, and control impulses. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.

Recent work in the lab has shown that neurons in the prefrontal cortex have complex properties that are ideal for a role in cognitive control. Their activity is highly dependent on, and shaped by, task demands. They are selectively activated by relevant sensory inputs, involved in recalling stored memories, and they integrate the diverse information needed for a common behavioral goal. Perhaps most importantly, they transmit acquired knowledge. Their activity reflects learned associations between diverse stimuli, actions, and their consequences. They can even convey abstract behavioral information such as “rules.” This representation of the formal demands of tasks within the prefrontal cortex may provide the necessary foundation for the complex forms of behavior observed in primates, in whom this structure is most elaborate.

Earl K. Miller received his Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Princeton University. After postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Mental Health, he joined the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT in 1995.

  • Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2017
  • Miller and Cohen (2001) identified as the 5th most-cited paper in Neuroscience (Yeung et al., 2017)
  • Paul and Lilah Newton Brain Science Award, 2017
  • Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience, 2016
  • Distinguished Member, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, 2013
  • National Institute of Mental Health MERIT Award
  • Mathilde Solowey Award in the Neurosciences
  • Election to the International Neuropsychological Symposium
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • The Picower Chair at MIT
  • The National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award
  • The Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award
  • The Pew Scholar Award
  • The John Merck Scholar Award
  • The McKnight Scholar Award
Featured publications are below. For a full list visit the lab website linked above.

January 26, 2018
Lundqvist, M., Herman, P. Warden, M.R., Brincat, S.L., and Miller, E.K. (2018), Nature Communications. 9, 394
January 25, 2018
Wutz, A., Loonis, R., Roy, J.E., Donoghue, J.A., and Miller, E.K. (2018) Neuron 97: 1-11
March 17, 2016
Lundqvist, M., Rose, J., Herman, P, Brincat, S.L, Buschman, T.J., and Miller, E.K. (2016) Neuron
June 19, 2015
Siegel, M., Buschman, T.J., and Miller, E.K. (2015) Science: 1352-1355.
June 12, 2014
Antzoulatos, E.G. and Miller, E.K. (2014) . Neuron, 83:216-225. (Selected as one of Neuron’s Best of 2014-2015)

Study models how ketamine’s molecular action leads to its effects on the brain

May 20, 2024
Research Findings
New research addresses a gap in understanding how ketamine’s impact on individual neurons leads to pervasive and profound changes in brain network function.

How the brain is flexible enough for a complex world (without being thrown into chaos)

May 13, 2024
Research Findings
Many neurons exhibit “mixed selectivity.” They can integrate multiple inputs and participate in multiple computations. Mechanisms such as oscillations and neuromodulators recruit their participation and tune them to focus on the relevant information.

In the brain, bursts of beta rhythms implement cognitive control

April 23, 2024
Research Findings
Bursts of brain rhythms with “beta” frequencies control where and when neurons in the cortex process sensory information and plan responses. Studying these bursts would improve understanding of cognition and clinical disorders, researchers write.

Paper: To understand cognition—and its dysfunction—neuroscientists must learn its rhythms

April 17, 2024
Research Findings
Thought emerges and is controlled in the brain via the rhythmically and spatially coordinated activity of millions of neurons, scientists argue in a new article. Understanding cognition and its disorders requires studying it at that level.

Study reveals a universal pattern of brain wave frequencies

January 18, 2024
Research Findings
Across mammalian species, brain waves are slower in deep cortical layers, while superficial layers generate faster rhythms.

Anesthesia blocks sensation by cutting off communication within the cortex

November 8, 2023
Research Findings
Under propofol general anesthesia, sensory input still reaches the brain, but signals do not spread. Results suggest consciousness requires cortical regions to all be “on the same page.”

Anesthesia technology precisely controls unconsciousness in animal tests

October 31, 2023
Research Findings
An advanced closed-loop anesthesia delivery system that monitors brain state to tailor propofol dose and achieve exactly the desired level of unconsciousness could reduce post-op side effects

A multifunctional tool for cognitive neuroscience

October 20, 2023
Research Findings
A flexible new tool both monitors and manipulates neural activity in the brains of large animals.

Brain networks encoding memory come together via electric fields, study finds

July 10, 2023
Research Findings
New research provides evidence that electric fields shared among neurons via “ephaptic coupling” provide the coordination necessary to assemble the multi-region neural ensembles (“engrams”) that represent remembered information.

Mind to molecules: Does brain’s electrical encoding of information ‘tune’ sub-cellular structure?

May 22, 2023
Research Findings
Brain waves carry information. A new “Cytoelectric Coupling” hypothesis posits that fluctuating electric fields optimize brain network efficiency and stability by shaping the brain’s molecular infrastructure.

Andre Bastos
Postdoctoral Fellow

Scott Brincat
Research Scientist

Jacob Donoghue
Graduate Student

Frank Guenther
Professor Boston University

Mikael Lundqvist
Postdoctoral Fellow

Meredith Mahnke
Lab manager, Research Technician

Morteza Moazami
Postdoctoral Fellow

Dimitris Pinotsis
Visiting Scientist

Jefferson Roy
Associate Lab Director, Research Scientist

Robert Vasen
Undergraduate Researcher

Jorge Yanar
Post-Baccalaureate Student

Andreas Wutz
Postdoctoral Fellow