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)

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.

‘Spatial Computing’ enables flexible working memory

March 15, 2023
Research Findings
Brain applies rhythms to physical patches of the cortex to selectively control just the right neurons at the right times to do the right things.

Holding information in mind may mean storing it among synapses

December 29, 2022
Research Findings
Comparing models of working memory with real-world data, MIT researchers found that information resides not in persistent neural activity, but in the pattern of their connections

How the brain focuses on what’s in mind

September 5, 2022
Research Findings
When holding information in mind, neural activity is more focused when and where there are bursts of gamma frequency rhythms

Anesthetic drastically diverts the travels of brain waves

April 27, 2022
Research Findings
Under propofol general anesthesia very slow frequency traveling waves transform and dominate, redirecting and disrupting the higher frequency traveling waves associated with conscious function

Neurons are fickle. Electric fields are more reliable for information.

March 14, 2022
Research Findings
A new study suggests that electric fields may represent information held in working memory, allowing the brain to overcome “representational drift,” or the inconsistent participation of individual neurons

‘Traveling’ nature of brain waves may help working memory work

January 31, 2022
Research Findings
The act of holding information in mind is accompanied by coordination of rotating brain waves in the prefrontal cortex, a new study finds.

Statistical model defines ketamine anesthesia’s effects on the brain

September 3, 2021
Research Findings
Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a statistical framework that rigorously describes the brain state changes that patients experience under ketamine-induced anesthesia.

Anesthesia doesn't simply turn off the brain, it changes its rhythms

April 27, 2021
Research Findings
Simultaneous measurement of neural rhythms and spikes across five brain areas in animals reveals how propofol induces unconsciousness

As you look around, mental images bounce between right and left brain

February 8, 2021
Research Findings
New study explains how the brain helps us remember what we’ve seen, even as it shifts around in our visual system

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