Select Topics
Cognition and Motivation
Systems Neuroscience
Molecular and Cellular


Not merely a restorative process, sleep also has a crucial role in learning and memory. Ongoing studies at the Picower Institute are producing new insights into how memory is processed during sleep and dreaming.

Higher Level Cognition

We are not only capable of learning and reasoning about complex information, we can exert volitional control over these processes. Research at the Picower Institute includes studies to understand the cells, circuits and systems that allow for these capabilities and how abnormalities can disrupt them.

Executive Function

People employ executive functions such as attention and planning to achieve goals and act on motivations, aided by learning and memory. Research at the Picower Institute seeks to understand how the complex coordination of cells, circuits and systems works in the brain to enable such functions.

Reward Systems

Learning and motivation are often governed by the experience of reward and the desire to obtain it again. At the same time, some diseases such as addiction hijack this system. Researchers at Picower study these systems to gain insight into the mechanisms of healthy and unhealthy behavior.

Neural Signal Processing

Neurons are electrically active, producing patterns of activity that can be observed to understand their function. By developing advanced techniques to detect and analyze these patterns of electrical signals, Picower Institute scientists can advance the study of how brain circuits, for instance for storing and recalling memory, work.

Activity Sensors

To understand role of neurons and the circuits in which they participate neuroscientists must be able to gather data on a neuron’s electrical activity, such as when they fire, in real-time. Picower scientists are constantly innovating new genetic and chemical sensors, as well as electronic and imaging-based means to track neural activity both in vitro and in vivo and develop sophisticated means to analyze the large volumes of data gathered.


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.