By engineering cells with light-responsive ion channels, optogenetics allow the activity of cells such as neurons to become controlled by pulses of visible light. The technology is widely used throughout the institute in experiments in which purposeful instigation or suppression of neural activity can reveal important data on the functions of cells, circuits, systems, and behaviors.

Anxiety Disorders

In the brain, neural circuits mediate senses of reward and aversion, memory and behavior. Perturbations in these circuits may result in disease states such as anxiety. By studying the anatomy, function and dynamics of these circuits in regions such as the amygdala, as well as their connections with other regions, Picower scientists are unraveling the bases of these disorders.

Early Life Stress

Early-life or “toxic” stress can significantly affect neural development and behavior. Picower Institute research includes the effects of genetic and environmental adversity in early development and many scientists also closely study the more general question of how experience changes the brain.

Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is associated with a loss of dopamine-producing neurons, resulting in tremor and other difficulties in motor control. Research at the Picower Institute includes studies to understand how cells become susceptible in the disease as the brain ages and on improving therapeutic approaches.

Motivation and Behavior

Our desires and fears often govern our actions. Those motivations and behaviors are, in turn, encoded in the brain via circuits that connect different regions. Picower researchers study them in detail to understand how they function and how abnormalities may result in diseases such as addiction.

Arousal Control

Whether awake, asleep or under anesthesia, the brain operates in various states of consciousness, often for prolonged periods. Picower researchers study the biochemistry and systems that generate and govern consciousness and arousal both to achieve basic understanding and to improve clinical care.

Memory Systems

Memories can be of many types (e.g. places or faces), operate on different timeframes (long- or short-term), and be stored and recalled through distinct processes involving multiple brain regions. The subject of intense interest across the Picower Institute, memory systems are studied widely and in depth.  

Visual System

Perhaps the most prized of our senses, the visual system has long provided neuroscientists a model for studying neural plasticity and development and cortical dynamics. It also is a system in which disorders can produce devastating disabilities. At the Picower Institute, scientists study this system to gain broad insights into the brain and also to address societal needs.

Neuro Genomics and Proteomics

Fundamentally the central nervous system is made up of cells whose functions are specified by which genes are expressed, and how and when.  At the Picower Institute, scientists use “big data” and bio-informatics techniques to make new discoveries about how genes and the proteins that arise from their expression influence brain function and how abnormalities contribute to disease.

Brain Imaging

In many ways, Picower Institute neuroscientists are explorers for whom new ways to see inside the brain are essential for finding answers to their questions about how the brain works at scales ranging from synapses to whole networks. Researchers at the institute doesn’t just apply the latest imaging techniques, it often creates new technologies to make imaging better.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism refers to a group of developmental disorders typically affecting behaviors including social interaction. Picower researchers study the neurobiology underlying a variety of forms of autism, including genetic anomalies and other ways that synapses and neural circuits may develop differently. Their studies extend to the level of cognitive functions and associated systems.

Huntington's Disease

Huntington’s disease is an inherited, progressive, neurodegenerative disorder associated with mutation of the Huntingtin protein results in wide-ranging motor, cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Work at the Picower Institute involves advancing the understanding of how the mutation gives rise to these consequences.