Wearing a black shirt, Choi smiles while looking directly into the camera

Gloria Choi

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

Contact Info

Office: 46-5023
Website: Choi Lab

Administrative Assistant

Natalie Soares (Lab Manager)

Choi’s lab studies the interaction of the immune system with the brain and the effects of that interaction on neurodevelopment, behavior and mood. For example, she is particularly interested in learning how cytokines, families of proteins that immune cells use to communicate, may act as neuromodulators that influence the development and activity of neurons in the cortex.

With this focus, Choi’s team has published several key insights that help explain how the maternal microbiome and immune activation during pregnancy can elevate the risk of offspring developing neurodevelopmental disorders.

In a 2016 paper in Science, Choi and collaborators showed in a mouse model of maternal immune activation that a particular type of T lymphocyte immune cell and its secretion of the cytokine interleukin-17a (IL-17a), mediated maternal immune activation and the development of autism-like behavioral abnormalities in offspring. The collaboration then followed with two papers in Nature in September 2017. One showed the phenomenon was further mediated by the presence of maternal intestinal bacteria that promote T cell differentiation.  The other showed that the effect of IL-17a in the brain was focused in the S1DZ region of the cortex where they observed a deficit of neural inhibition. The team showed that by intervening to reduce excess neural activity, they could mitigate behavioral abnormalities associated with maternal infection.

Motivated by those findings, Choi’s long-term translational goal is to develop ways to assess the risk for individual patients, prevent the development of disease, and mitigate it post-development. Also, because her research has identified the S1DZ region of the cortex, which is hypothesized to be important for proprioception, as being particularly crucial, she is also studying the connection between proprioception and social behavior.

In earlier work Choi’s lab studied how sensory stimuli, such as smells, drive behavioral responses and internal states depending on past experience.

Choi joined the faculty of MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in 2013 and the Picower Institute in 2019. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of California, Berkeley, and her Ph.D. from Caltech, where she studied with David Anderson. She was a postdoctoral research scientist in the laboratory of Richard Axel at Columbia University.

2018 Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award

Featured publications are below. For a full list visit the lab website linked above.

September 28, 2017
Yim, Y.S., Park, A., Berrios, J., Pascual, L., Soares, N., Kim, J.Y., Kim, S., Kim, H., Waisman, A., Littman, D., Harnett, M.T., Wickersham, I.R., Huh, J.R, Nature. 549(7673):482-487
September 13, 2017
Choi, G.B., Yim, Y.S., Wong, H., Kim, S.D., Kim, H.J., Kim, S.W., Hoeffer, C.A., Littman, D., and Huh, J.R, Nature. 549(7673):528-532
February 26, 2016
Choi, G.B., Yim, Y.S., Wong, H., Kim, S.D., Kim, H.J., Kim, S.W., Hoeffer, C.A., Littman, D., and Huh, J.R., Science. 351(6276):933-9
July 1, 2015
Choe, H.K., Reed, M.D., Benavidez, N., Montgomery, D., Soares, N., Yim, Y.S., and Choi. G.B., Neuron. 87: 152-163
September 15, 2011
Choi, G.B., Stettler, D., Kallman, B., Shaskar, S., Fleishman, A., and Axel, R., Cell. 146: 1004-15

How could Covid-19 and the body’s immune response affect the brain?

April 21, 2020
Research Feature
Picower Institute researchers are embarking on experiments to learn the mechanisms by which coronavirus might affect mental health

Study may explain how infections reduce autism symptoms

December 18, 2019
Research Findings
An immune molecule sometimes produced during infection can influence the social behavior of mice.

Neuroscientists look to the body to better understand the brain

July 1, 2019
News Feature
Studies yield new insights into behavior, development, anesthesia

New faculty member studies immune system effect on the brain

February 20, 2019
Picower People
Gloria Choi's research has connected maternal infection with neurodevelopmental disorders

Studies help explain link between autism, severe infection during pregnancy

September 13, 2017
Research findings
Bacterial populations in mother’s GI tract may play a central role.

How severe maternal inflammation can lead to autism-like behavior

January 28, 2016
Research findings
Immune molecules in infected mothers tied to brain and behavior abnormalities in offspring.