Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology Matthew Wilson

Matthew Wilson

Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology
Investigator in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Professor, Department of Biology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Contact Info

Office: 46-5233A
Phone: 617-253-2046

Administrative Assistant

Office: 46-5233

Research in the Wilson laboratory focuses on the study of information representation across large populations of neurons in the mammalian nervous system, as well as on the mechanisms that underlie formation and maintenance of distributed memories in freely behaving animals. To study the basis of these processes, the lab employs a combination of molecular genetic, electrophysiological, pharmacological, behavioral, and computational approaches. Using techniques that allow the simultaneous activity of ensembles of hundreds of single neurons to be examined in freely behaving animals, the lab examines how memories of places and events are encoded across networks of cells within the hippocampus a region of the brain long implicated in the processes underlying learning and memory.

These studies of learning and memory in awake, behaving animals have led to the exploration of the nature of sleep and its role in memory. Previous theories have suggested that sleep states may be involved in the process of memory consolidation, in which memories are transferred from short to longer-term stores and possibly reorganized into more efficient forms. Recent evidence has shown that ensembles of neurons within the hippocampus, which had been activated during behavior are reactivated during periods of dreaming. By reconstructing the content of these states, specific memories can be tracked during the course of the consolidation process.

Combining the measurement of ongoing neuronal activity with manipulation of molecular genetic targets has allowed the study of how specific cellular mechanisms regulate neural function to produce learning and memory at the behavioral level. Pharmacological blockage of these receptors has allowed the study of their involvement in the rapid changes that occur during both waking and sleeping states. Simultaneous monitoring of areas in the hippocampus and neocortex have allowed study of the downstream effects of activation.

Taken together, these approaches contribute to the overall research objective: to understand the link from cellular/subcellular mechanisms of plasticity, to neural ensemble representations and interactions, to learning, memory, behavior, and cognition.

Matthew A. Wilson received his Ph.D. in Computational and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology and completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Arizona. In 1994, he joined the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.

  • Achievement Rewards for College Scientists
  • Science Foundation Research Associate in Computational Neuroscience
  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow
  • Edward J. Poitras Assistant Professorship for Career Development
  • John Merck Scholars Award
  • Office of Naval Research Young Investigator
  • Middleton Neurosciences Award
  • Picower Scholar Award
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Featured publications are below. For a full list visit the lab website linked above.

July 10, 2017
Penagos H, Varela C, Wilson MA. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2017 Jun;44:193-201. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2017.05.009. PMID: 28570953.
August 30, 2016
Chen Z, Grosmark AD, Penagos H, Wilson MA. Sci Rep. 2016 Aug 30;6:32193. doi: 10.1038/srep32193.
October 14, 2015
Gomperts SN, Kloosterman F, Wilson MA, Elife. 2015 Oct 14;4. doi: 10.7554/eLife.05360. PMID: 26465113.
July 29, 2014
Siegle JH, Wilson MA, Elife. 2014 Jul 29;3:e03061. doi: 10.7554/eLife.03061. PMID: 25073927.
September 2, 2012
Bendor, D, Wilson, MA, Nature Neuroscience, Epub Sept 2, 2012. PMID: 22941111.

With programmable pixels, novel sensor improves imaging of neural activity

June 7, 2024
Research Findings
New camera chip design allows for optimizing each pixel’s timing to maximize signal to noise ratio when tracking real-time visual indicator of neural voltage

Livestreaming the Brain

March 15, 2024
Research Feature
To learn how the brain works, Picower Institute labs are advancing technologies and methods to watch it live as it happens

The Sleeping Brain

September 14, 2023
Neural activity during sleep has a signature structure that the brain uses to make profound improvements in our thinking and wellness

Research offers insights into mechanisms underlying bipolar mania, sleep homeostasis

November 23, 2022
Recent Events
At a press conference at Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, young Picower scientist Takato Honda presented findings of key neurons involved in the neuropsychiatric disorder and sleep homeostasis

Animals dream too—here's what we know

Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology Matthew Wilson
November 2, 2022

'What Were you Thinking?'

September 20, 2021
Research Feature
How brain circuits integrate many sources of context to flexibly guide behavior

From Biological Intelligence to Artificial Intelligence

September 17, 2020
Research Feature
How basic neuroscience research by Picower faculty has mattered to AI

To distinguish contexts, animals think probabilistically, study suggests

August 3, 2020
Research Findings
A new statistical model may help scientists understand how animals make inferences about whether their surroundings are novel or haven’t changed enough to be a new context

Like a treasure map, brain region emphasizes reward location

June 1, 2020
Research Findings
Lateral septum encodes spatial information with a special emphasis on where the reward lies

Fundamental questions find advanced answers, approaches at Fall Symposium

October 18, 2019
Experts from around the world discuss "Neural Mechanisms of Memory and Cognition"

Pedro Feliciano
Postdoctoral Fellow

Wei Guo
Postdoctoral Associate

Takato Honda
Postdoctoral Fellow

Hector Penagos-Vargas
Research Scientist

Honi Sanders
Postdoctoral Associate

Jie Zhang
Postdoctoral Associate