Michael Halassa

Michael Halassa

Assistant Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences
Affiliate Member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Associate Member, McGovern Institute for Brain Research

Contact Info

Michael Halassa’s research is focused on the neural basis of cognitive control and flexibility, particularly as it relates to attention and decision making.  To study these questions he has developed behavioral models of cognitive function in mice, allowing him to probe the underlying neural circuits and computations using parametric behavior, electrophysiological recordings and causal manipulations.  His major current thematic focus is understanding the function of the thalamus, traditionally considered a ‘relay station’ for sending sensory information to the cortex. Halassa's work has revealed previously unrecognized roles for the thalamus in helping to configure the computational state of the cortex to execute behavioral goals. Halassa is also a board-certified psychiatrist with fellowship training in psychotic disorders. Motivated by this clinical training, Halassa studies how the brain generates hypotheses about the world and how these hypotheses may be corrupted by disease processes. Halassa suggests that an inability to switch between different hypotheses may be at the root of schizophrenia and related disorders. 

Michael Halassa is a neuroscientist who aims to understand the basic circuit mechanisms of how information is routed in the brain and how disruptions in these circuits can lead to neurological and psychiatric disorders. As a practicing psychiatrist he aims to develop novel approaches to diagnosing and treating these illnesses guided by insights both from the lab and clinic. Originally from Jordan, Halassa received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, and was a postdoc in the laboratory of Matt Wilson at MIT, while also doing a residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He joined the NYU faculty in 2014 and became an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 2018. Halassa has received many prestigious fellowships and awards for his work, including most recently the 2017 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, a national award given to immigrants who early in their careers have made “lasting contributions to American society through their extraordinary achievements in biomedical research."

His CV can be found here in PDF form.


2017 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Biomedical Sciences

2015 Daniel X. Freedman Prize for Exception Research in Basic Brain & Behavioral Science

2017 Takeda/New York Academy of Science Innovator

2017 NYU Langone Medical Center Next Generation Star

2015 Allen Institute Next Generation Leader Awards and Scholarships

2017 Pew Scholar Award for Biomedical Sciences

2016 Human Frontiers Science Program Investigator

2015 NIMH Director’s Innovator Award (BRAINS)

2015 NARSAD Young Investigator Award

2015 Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in the Neurosciences

2015 Feldstein Medical Foundation Award

2015 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Scholar Award

2012 NIH Pathway to independence career award (K99/R00), NINDS

2009 Flexner award for outstanding thesis in Neuroscience, PENN 

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

May 3, 2017
Schmitt, L.I., Wimmer, R.D., Nakajima, M., Mofakham, S., Happ, M., Halassa, M.M., Nature 545: 219-223

March 23, 2016
Wells, M.F., Wimmer, R.D., Schmitt, L.I., Feng, G., Halassa, M.M., Nature 532: 58-63
October 15, 2015
Wimmer, R.D., Schmitt, L.I., Davidson, T.J., Nakajima, M., Deisseroth, K., Halassa, M.M.,
Nature 526: 705–709
October 13, 2015
Lewis, L.D., Voigts, J., Flores, F.J., Schmitt, L.I., Wilson, M.A., Halassa, M.M.*, Brown, E.N.,
Elife DOI: 10.7554/eLife.08760. *Co-senior

Fundamental questions find advanced answers, approaches at Fall Symposium

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

Ralf Wimmer, Research Scientist

Ian Schmitt, Postdoctoral Fellow

Miho Nakajima, Postdoctoral Fellow

Rajeev Rikhye, Postdoctoral Fellow

Stefan Oline, Lab Manager and Lead Technical Assistant

Navdeep Bajwa, Lab Technician

Christine Yu, Lab Technician

Melissa Garcia, Lab Technician