Cognition and Motivation Research

Sleep

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.

Matthew Wilson

Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology
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, and the role of sleep in memory.

Susumu Tonegawa

Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience
With cutting-edge neuroscience techniques, the Tonegawa lab unravels the molecular, cellular, and neural circuit mechanisms that underlie learning and memory. Studies bridge basic science and disease models to causally dissect how memory works and breaks down.

Down syndrome symposium highlights clinical, fundamental progress

November 20, 2020
Recent Events
Speakers describe studies to address Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnea and to advance fundamental discoveries in cell and chromosome biology

Memory and its meaning

October 7, 2019
News Feature
25 Years of Picower Institute research

NSF ‘CAREER’ award helps fund Flavell lab study of behavioral states

February 12, 2019
Picower People
Research will probe how states like sleep emerge and are sustained

Neurotechnology provides real-time readouts of where rats think they are

December 4, 2018
Research findings
Open-source system provides for fast, accurate neural decoding

Decoding hidden dreams

August 30, 2016
Research Findings
Neuroscientists decrypt the sleeping brain to reveal hidden memories.

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.

Steven Flavell

Lister Brothers Career Development Professor
Neural operations occur in milliseconds, yet the brain generates behaviors that can last hours. Flavell’s lab studies how neural circuits generate sustained behavioral states, and how physiological and environmental information is integrated into these circuits.

Susumu Tonegawa

Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience
With cutting-edge neuroscience techniques, the Tonegawa lab unravels the molecular, cellular, and neural circuit mechanisms that underlie learning and memory. Studies bridge basic science and disease models to causally dissect how memory works and breaks down.

'What Were you Thinking?'

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

Grant to help scientists test whether brain region is a key locus of learning

July 23, 2021
New Research
Long thought of as a generic alarm system, the locus coeruleus may actually be a sophisticated regulator of learning and behavior, an MIT team posits

Mice naturally engage in physical distancing, study finds

March 31, 2021
Research Findings
MIT neuroscientists have identified a brain circuit that stops mice from mating with others that appear to be sick

Steven Flavell earns Sloan Research Fellowship

February 16, 2021
Picower People
Award supports fundamental research on how the brain generates internal states that guide animal behavior

Dopamine signaling allows neural circuits to generate coordinated behaviors

June 11, 2020
Research Findings
As part of study, team invents new open-source microscopy platform

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

With sophisticated tools in a simple model, scientists aim to learn how serotonin modulates behavior

February 20, 2020
New Research
New NIH grant funds study that will span receptors, cells, the whole brain and behavior

Study finds hub linking movement and motivation in the brain

September 19, 2019
Research findings
Detailed observations in the lateral septum indicate region processes movement, reward information to help direct behavior

Neuroscientists look to the body to better understand the brain

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

Five Picower students honored as ‘Graduate Women of Excellence’

May 1, 2019
Picower People
Designation recognizes community leadership, service

Gut-brain connection signals worms to alter behavior while eating

December 20, 2018
Research findings
Study may lead to a better understanding of the digestive tract’s nervous system

Brain circuit helps us learn by watching others

May 3, 2018
Research Findings
Scientists pinpoint neural interactions that are necessary for observational learning.

Learning and Memory

What we learn and remember help make us who we are. By studying how these systems arise from the contributions of specific genes, molecules, cells, synapses, circuits and systems, Picower scientists make discoveries about how we retain and make use of experiences in the world. By better understanding how these processes may break down, they generate innovative potential treatments and diagnostic methods for complex developmental, psychiatric and degenerative brain disorders.

Earl K. Miller

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Miller’s lab studies the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.

Li-Huei Tsai

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
The Tsai lab is interested in elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurological disorders that impact learning and memory by taking a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the molecular, cellular, and circuit basis of neurodegenerative disorders.

Mark Bear

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Bear’s lab studies how experience and deprivation modify synaptic connections in the brain. Experience-dependent synaptic plasticity is the physical substrate of memory and sculpts connections during postnatal development to determine the capabilities and limitations of brain functions.

Matthew Wilson

Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology
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, and the role of sleep in memory.

Susumu Tonegawa

Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience
With cutting-edge neuroscience techniques, the Tonegawa lab unravels the molecular, cellular, and neural circuit mechanisms that underlie learning and memory. Studies bridge basic science and disease models to causally dissect how memory works and breaks down.

Brain’s ‘memory center’ needed to recognize image sequences but not single sights

July 26, 2021
Research Findings
The visual cortex stores and remembers individual images, but when they are grouped into a sequence, mice can’t recognize that without guidance from the hippocampus

Grant to help scientists test whether brain region is a key locus of learning

July 23, 2021
New Research
Long thought of as a generic alarm system, the locus coeruleus may actually be a sophisticated regulator of learning and behavior, an MIT team posits

Memory making involves extensive DNA breaking

July 6, 2021
Research Findings
To quickly express genes needed for learning and memory, brain cells snap both strands of DNA in many more places and cell types than previously realized, a new study shows

As novel sights become familiar, different brain rhythms, neurons take over

June 8, 2021
Research Findings
As ‘visual recognition memory’ emerges in visual cortex, one circuit of inhibitory neurons supplants another and slower neural oscillations prevail

Bigger than a Building

March 10, 2021
Picower People
Our first ever census of alumni and former research staff shows a thriving community that spans the globe and many different roles

Neural networks need more than neurons, new project posits

March 4, 2021
New Research
With a new grant from the U.S. Army, a team of scientists will seek to enhance artificial intelligence by integrating brain cells called astrocytes

As you look around, mental images bounce between right and left brain

February 8, 2021
Research Findings
New study explains how the brain helps us remember what we’ve seen, even as it shifts around in our visual system

Neuroscientists identify brain circuit that encodes timing of events

January 11, 2021
Research Findings
Findings suggest this hippocampal circuit helps us to maintain our timeline of memories.

Neuroscientists discover a molecular mechanism that allows memories to form

October 5, 2020
Research Findings
Modifications to chromosomes in “engram” neurons control the encoding and retrieval of memories

New trial to test brain wave stimulation as Alzheimer’s preventative

August 25, 2020
New Research
MIT, MGH join forces to test whether ‘GENUS’ stimulation of 40Hz rhythms can reduce disease pathology before onset of symptoms

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

Neuroscientists find memory cells that help us interpret new situations

April 6, 2020
Research Findings
Neurons that store abstract representations of past experiences are activated when a new, similar event takes place

Look and Learn: Studying the visual system

March 13, 2020
Research Feature
Research on how the brain processes sight has told neuroscientists much about how the brain works more broadly

With these neurons, extinguishing fear is its own reward

January 15, 2020
Research findings
The same neurons responsible for encoding reward also form new memories to suppress fearful ones

Engrams emerging as the basic unit of memory

January 2, 2020
Research Findings
Review in Science traces progress in studying the neural substrate for storing memories

Study probing visual memory, amblyopia unveils many-layered mystery

December 13, 2019
Research Findings
Plasticity underlying amblyopia found in visual cortex layer 4

In Alzheimer’s research, MIT scientists reveal brain rhythm role

October 22, 2019
At 'SFN'
At Society for Neuroscience meeting, Li-Huei Tsai presents latest findings on sensory stimulation of gamma rhythm

Fundamental questions find advanced answers, approaches at Fall Symposium

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

Memory and its meaning

October 7, 2019
News Feature
25 Years of Picower Institute research

Brain wave stimulation may improve Alzheimer’s symptoms

March 14, 2019
Research findings
Noninvasive treatment can improve Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss and amyloid plaque buildup in mice.

Brain wave stimulation may improve Alzheimer’s symptoms

March 14, 2019
Research findings
Noninvasive treatment can improve Alzheimer’s symptoms such as memory loss and amyloid plaque buildup in mice.

How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall

December 11, 2018
Research findings
Going back to a scene makes engram cells more electrically excitable

Neurotechnology provides real-time readouts of where rats think they are

December 4, 2018
Research findings
Open-source system provides for fast, accurate neural decoding

Dozens from Picower present research at SfN

November 13, 2018
Recent Events
Researchers take part in field's largest annual exchange of ideas

A new model for how working memory gets you through the day

October 24, 2018
Research findings
Brain rhythms have crucial role in maintenance and control

Earl Miller wins George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience

October 15, 2018
Picower People
Miller will deliver lecture in San Francisco in March

Protein has unique effects in neural connections related to information processing

October 9, 2018
Research findings
SAP102 shapes decay of postysnaptic currents

To understand working memory, scientists must resolve this debate

August 8, 2018
Research findings
How do we hold and juggle multiple pieces of information in mind?

As brain extracts meaning from vision, study tracks progression of processing

July 10, 2018
Research Findings
Six brain regions participate in a more blended way than has been appreciated

Brain circuit helps us learn by watching others

May 3, 2018
Research Findings
Scientists pinpoint neural interactions that are necessary for observational learning.

Symposium speaks to the many powers of brain rhythms

April 9, 2018
Events
11 experts convened at Picower April 4

"What made me aware I wanted to study the brain?"

March 18, 2018
Brain Awareness Week 2018
Picower Institute researchers discuss their early inspiration

Lifting the veil on ‘valence,’ brain study reveals roots of desire, dislike

January 23, 2018
Research Findings
Research reveals inner workings of amygdala, which assigns feelings to experiences

How the brain selectively remembers new places

December 25, 2017
Research findings
Neuroscientists identify a circuit that helps the brain record memories of new locations.

MIT neuroscientists build case for new theory of memory formation

October 23, 2017
Research Findings
Existence of “silent engrams” suggests that existing models of memory formation should be revised.

Brain waves reflect different types of learning

October 11, 2017
Research Findings
For the first time, researchers have identified neural signatures of explicit and implicit learning.

The neural circuits of linked brain waves

September 27, 2017
Research Findings
Neuroscientists identify a brain circuit that generates brain waves carrying spatial information

How we recall the past

August 17, 2017
Research Findings
Neuroscientists discover a brain circuit dedicated to retrieving memories.

Blocking a key enzyme may reverse memory loss

August 8, 2017
Research Findings
MIT study suggests a new approach to developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Neuroscientists identify brain circuit necessary for memory formation

April 6, 2017
Research Findings
New findings challenge standard model of memory consolidation.

Scientists identify brain circuit that drives pleasure-inducing behavior

March 22, 2017
Research Findings
Surprisingly, the neurons are located in a brain region thought to be linked with fear.

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.

Earl K. Miller

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Miller’s lab studies the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.

Matthew Wilson

Sherman Fairchild Professor in Neurobiology
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, and the role of sleep in memory.

Mriganka Sur

Newton Professor of Neuroscience
The goal of the Sur laboratory is to understand long-term plasticity and short-term dynamics in circuits of the developing and adult cortex, and to utilize this understanding to discover mechanisms underlying disorders of brain development.

Neural networks need more than neurons, new project posits

March 4, 2021
New Research
With a new grant from the U.S. Army, a team of scientists will seek to enhance artificial intelligence by integrating brain cells called astrocytes

As you look around, mental images bounce between right and left brain

February 8, 2021
Research Findings
New study explains how the brain helps us remember what we’ve seen, even as it shifts around in our visual system

Cortex over reflex: Study traces circuits where executive control overcomes instinct

November 30, 2020
Research Findings
Anterior cingulate cortex overrides reflexive inclination of the superior colliculus when rules reqiure

Brain waves guide us in spotlighting surprises

November 23, 2020
Research Findings
The brain uses different frequency rhythms and cortical layers to suppress expected stimulation and increase activity for what’s novel

Scientists identify specific brain region and circuits controlling attention

November 2, 2020
Research Findings
Study shows that norepinephrine producing neurons in the locus coeruleus produce attention focus, impulse control via two distinct connections to prefrontal cortex

Picower researcher earns BBRF Young Investigator grant

September 21, 2020
Picower People
Sur Lab postdoc Vincent Breton-Provencher will use award to study neurobiology underlying attention

As information flows through brain’s heirarchy, higher regions use higher frequency waves

September 8, 2020
Research Findings
Study also finds specific frequency bands associated with encoding, or inhibiting encoding, of sensory information across the cortex

‘Skyrocketing’ research by investing in young researchers

June 23, 2020
Picower People
Picower Institute postdocs advance new ideas, gain skills with support of NIH’s ‘K99’ awards

Look and Learn: Studying the visual system

March 13, 2020
Research Feature
Research on how the brain processes sight has told neuroscientists much about how the brain works more broadly

Fundamental questions find advanced answers, approaches at Fall Symposium

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

A new model for how working memory gets you through the day

October 24, 2018
Research findings
Brain rhythms have crucial role in maintenance and control

Earl Miller wins George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience

October 15, 2018
Picower People
Miller will deliver lecture in San Francisco in March

Matt Wilson on Intelligence research at MIT

July 12, 2018
Q&A
From the Center for Brains Minds and Machines to the MIT Quest for Intelligence

Distinct brain rhythms, regions help us reason about categories

January 25, 2018
Research Findings
Gamma rhythms sort similar-looking objects; beta kicks in when connection is more abstract

Eleven from MIT elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences for 2017

April 12, 2017
Awards
Prestigious honor society announces 228 new members this year.

Scientists identify neurons devoted to social memory

September 29, 2016
Research Findings
Cells in the hippocampus store memories of acquaintances, a new study reports.

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.

Earl K. Miller

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Miller’s lab studies the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.

Emery N. Brown

Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Health Sciences & Technology
Brown lab research contributes to understanding the neuroscience of how anesthetics act in the brain to create the states of general anesthesia. Brown has developed signal processing algorithms to solve important data analysis challenges in neuroscience.

Statistical model defines ketamine anesthesia’s effects on the brain

September 3, 2021
Research Findings
Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a statistical framework that rigorously describes the brain state changes that patients experience under ketamine-induced anesthesia.

Grant to help scientists test whether brain region is a key locus of learning

July 23, 2021
New Research
Long thought of as a generic alarm system, the locus coeruleus may actually be a sophisticated regulator of learning and behavior, an MIT team posits

New algorithms show accuracy, reliability in gauging unconsciousness under general anesthesia

May 6, 2021
Research Findings
Machine learning software advances could help anesthesiologists optimize drug dose

Anesthesia doesn't simply turn off the brain, it changes its rhythms

April 27, 2021
Research Findings
Simultaneous measurement of neural rhythms and spikes across five brain areas in animals reveals how propofol induces unconsciousness

Brown wins SfN’s Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience

October 26, 2020
Picower People
Award cites major contributions to statistical analysis of brain activity and advancing the neuroscience of anesthesia

Statistical model improves analysis of skin conductance

October 5, 2020
Research Findings
By accounting for sweat physiology, method can make better use of electrodermal activity for tracking subconscious changes in physical or emotional state

BRAIN grant will fund new tools to study astrocytes

August 27, 2019
New Research
Sur lab will lead collaboration to create CRISPR, optogenetic innovations

Neuroscientists look to the body to better understand the brain

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

Study finds the circuits that may help you keep your cool

January 14, 2019
Research findings
Prefrontal cortex may be able to regulate arousal in locus coreuleus

Brown wins 2018 Dickson Prize in Science

December 5, 2018
Picower People
CMU award recognizes 'physician-scientist'

Focus on neuroscience, nociception to improve anesthesia, paper says

September 30, 2018
Research findings
Using fewer drugs can improve post-operative pain, side effects

At AAAS, Brown explains how statistics, neuroscience improve anesthesiology

February 16, 2018
At the lectern
Putting the brain at the center of practice

Recalculating time: A novel algorithm enables statistical analysis of time series data

December 21, 2017
Research findings
MIT researchers have developed a novel approach to analyzing time series data sets using a new algorithm, termed state-space multitaper time-frequency analysis