Molecular and Cellular Research

Glia

The nervous system is made up of more than just neurons. A variety of other cells, called glia, play crucial roles. Picower Institute neuroscientists study how glia contribute both to brain health and disease.

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.

Morgan Sheng

Core Institute Member, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
As Co-Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, Sheng will help to shape the center’s scientific vision and direction, and oversee the center’s efforts to develop therapeutics for schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses.

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.

Troy Littleton

Menicon Professor in Neuroscience
Littleton studies how neurons form synaptic connections, how synapses transmit information, and how synapses change during learning and memory. The research combines molecular biology, protein biochemistry, electrophysiology, and imaging approaches with Drosophila genetics.

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

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

Study offers an explanation for why the APOE4 gene enhances Alzheimer’s risk

March 3, 2021
Research Findings
The gene variant disrupts lipid metabolism, but in cell experiments the effects were reversed by choline supplements

Alzheimer’s risk gene disrupts endocytosis, but another disease-linked gene could help

October 6, 2020
Research Findings
Astrocytes with the APOE4 variant show deficits of key cellular function, but overexpressing PICALM overcame the defect

The story behind the science: How discovery develops

June 25, 2020
News Feature
An inside look at a key paper illustrates what it can take to publish new knowledge

Study finds path for addressing Alzheimer’s blood-brain barrier impairment

June 8, 2020
Research Findings
MIT researchers pinpoint mechanism and demonstrate drugs could help

Grant fuels effort to develop new Alzheimer’s drug

May 22, 2020
New Research
Collaboration will develop compound to correct gene expression in brain’s immune cells

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

MIT sets out to model Alzheimer’s disease complexity on a chip

October 3, 2019
New Research
Integrating patient-derived brain cell types with vasculature, computer models will yield powerful research platform

BRAIN grant will fund new tools to study astrocytes

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

Why visual stimulation may work against Alzheimer’s

May 7, 2019
Research Findings
New findings help explain the surprising discovery that exposure to flickering light reduces amyloid plaques in mice

A comprehensive map of how Alzheimer’s affects the brain

May 1, 2019
Research findings
Analysis of genes altered by the disease could provide targets for new treatments

Study reveals how glial cells may play key epilepsy role

April 30, 2019
Research findings
Mutation in disease model flies undermines maintenance of key ion balance

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.

Neuroscientists discover roles of gene linked to Alzheimer’s

May 31, 2018
Research Findings
Study reveals why people with the APOE4 gene have higher risk of the disease

With new grant, MIT neuroscientists will give 'invisible' cells a new look

February 8, 2018
New research
Astrocytes may 'partner' with neurons to process information

Neural Plasticity

A requirement of learning and memory is a brain capable of stably encoding change. Throughout our lives, in response to our experiences, our neurons form new synaptic connections and prune away others. Scientists in the Picower Institute study these processes of plasticity, elucidating their workings down to the molecule, to better understand how they work.

Elly Nedivi

William R. (1964) & Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience
Nedivi’s lab investigates the cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent plasticity through studies of synaptic and neuronal remodeling, identification of participating genes, and characterization of the cellular functions of the proteins they encode.

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.

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.

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.

Troy Littleton

Menicon Professor in Neuroscience
Littleton studies how neurons form synaptic connections, how synapses transmit information, and how synapses change during learning and memory. The research combines molecular biology, protein biochemistry, electrophysiology, and imaging approaches with Drosophila genetics.

Symposium spotlights crucial roles of dendrites

October 18, 2021
Recent Events
Scholars from around the world gathered online to share new research on how intricately structured neural processes enable plasticity of circuit connections and help integrate incoming information to enable brain function

Study shows fragile X treatment can incur resistance, suggests ways around it

September 29, 2021
Research Findings
While the brain acquires resistance to continuous treatment with mGluR5 inhibitor drugs, lasting effects may still arise if dosing occurs intermittently and during a developmental critical period

Novel approach reverses amblyopia in animals

September 1, 2021
Research Findings
By temporarily suspending retinal activity in the non-amblyopic eye of animal models, neuroscientists restrengthened the visual response in the amblyopic eye, even at ages after the critical period when patch therapy fails

Bear earns amblyopia research award

June 28, 2021
Picower People
RPB Walt and Lilly Disney Award will support efforts to develop new therapeutic approach

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

Study of synapse strength focuses on ‘active zones’

March 16, 2021
New Research
With new NIH grant, team will learn how neurons build key sites that release neurotransmitters a lot, or a little, to drive nervous system communication

Playing chess, not checkers: Neurons dynamically control their myelin patterns

December 18, 2020
Research Findings
Researchers identify a new level of complexity in how the brain responds to stimuli

Genes & Disease

December 14, 2020
Research Feature
Picower scientists are making the dauntingly long but highly motivating climb between associating a gene with disease and developing potential treatments.

Math shows how brain stays stable amid internal noise and a widely varying world

August 10, 2020
Research Findings
Theoretical framework shows that many properties of neural connections help biological circuits produce consistent computations

Seemingly similar, two neurons show distinct styles as they interact with the same muscle partner

July 7, 2020
Research Findings
Diversity in how cells talk to the muscle they innervate reveal distinct propensities for change, or “plasticity”

Findings weaken notion that size equals strength for neural connections

June 30, 2020
Research Findings
Among study’s many surprises may be a new way to address Fragile X syndrome – by finding a “Protein X”

Scientists find a new way to reverse symptoms of Fragile X

May 20, 2020
Research Findings
Drug compound, tested in mice, could be effective in treating the leading heritable cause of intellectual disability and autism

Study finds ‘volume dial’ for turning neural communication up or down

May 6, 2020
Research Findings
The protein Synaptotagmin 7 limits supply of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles for release at synapses

‘Researching from Home’: Picower science stays strong even at a distance

April 1, 2020
News Feature
Institute researchers are advancing their work in many ways despite time away from the lab required to corral Covid-19

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

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

Study probing visual memory, amblyopia unveils many-layered mystery

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

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"

How brain cells pick which connections to keep

August 6, 2019
Research findings
Novel study shows protein CPG15 acts as a molecular proxy of experience to mark synapses for stabilization

Protein has unique effects in neural connections related to information processing

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

Antidepressant restores youthful flexibility to aging inhibitory neurons in mice

August 20, 2018
Research findings
Neural plasticity, dendrite growth decline with age, study finds

Beckman Foundation Names Mark Bear as 2018 Beckman-Argyros Vision Research Award Winner

August 7, 2018
Picower People
Newly Funded Research Supports Recovery from Amblyopia

Study shows where brain transforms seeing into acting

July 3, 2018
Research Findings

Study IDs important role for specific gene in 16p11.2 deletion autism

March 20, 2018
Research Findings
Study finds MVP protein needed for homeostatic plasticity

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.

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.

Elly Nedivi

William R. (1964) & Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience
Nedivi’s lab investigates the cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent plasticity through studies of synaptic and neuronal remodeling, identification of participating genes, and characterization of the cellular functions of the proteins they encode.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Brown wins 2018 Dickson Prize in Science

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

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

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

Kay Tye receives NIH Pioneer Award

October 5, 2017
Awards
The award will be used to map the neural circuitry of social interactions and develop a mathematical model for complex group behaviors.

The neural circuits of linked brain waves

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

Decoding hidden dreams

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

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.

Elly Nedivi

William R. (1964) & Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience
Nedivi’s lab investigates the cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent plasticity through studies of synaptic and neuronal remodeling, identification of participating genes, and characterization of the cellular functions of the proteins they encode.

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.

Myriam Heiman

Latham Career Development Chair
Many neurodegenerative diseases begin with the loss of select groups of cells. Understanding select group vulnerability may help identify root causes and novel therapeutic targets. Heiman’s lab studies selective vulnerability and pathophysiology in Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

NIH award funds innovative investigation of neurodegenerative motor diseases

October 5, 2021
New Research
Large-scale, integrated application of advanced computational, biological techniques aims to discover mechanisms underlying ALS and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with motor neuron disease

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

Basic cell health systems wear down in Huntington’s disease, novel analysis shows

February 23, 2021
Research Findings
A new computational approach for analyzing complex datasets shows that as disease progresses, neurons and astrocytes lose the ability to maintain homeostasis

Scientists seek insight into Parkinson’s, addiction by tracking gene expression in the brain

January 4, 2021
New Research
Two MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences faculty members earn funding from the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Foundation

Genes & Disease

December 14, 2020
Research Feature
Picower scientists are making the dauntingly long but highly motivating climb between associating a gene with disease and developing potential treatments.

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

Neural vulnerability in Huntington’s disease tied to release of mitochondrial RNA

July 17, 2020
Research Findings
Unique survey of gene expression by cell type in humans and mice reveals several deficits affecting the most vulnerable neurons

Study finds path for addressing Alzheimer’s blood-brain barrier impairment

June 8, 2020
Research Findings
MIT researchers pinpoint mechanism and demonstrate drugs could help

Research highlights immune molecule’s complex role in Huntington’s disease

May 26, 2020
Research Findings
Knocking out the immune cytokine IL-6 exacerbates symptoms in HD model mice, affects neural connection genes

Study finds that aging neurons accumulate DNA damage

May 18, 2020
Research Findings
Reactivating an enzyme that promotes DNA repair can help to reverse age-related cognitive decline in mice.

‘Researching from Home’: Picower science stays strong even at a distance

April 1, 2020
News Feature
Institute researchers are advancing their work in many ways despite time away from the lab required to corral Covid-19

Genetic screen offers new drug targets for Huntington’s disease

January 30, 2020
Research findings
Neuroscientists identify genes that modulate the disease’s toxic effects

Down syndrome symposium highlights potential progress at many scales

November 14, 2019
Events
The inaugural symposium of the Alana Down Syndrome Center

MIT sets out to model Alzheimer’s disease complexity on a chip

October 3, 2019
New Research
Integrating patient-derived brain cell types with vasculature, computer models will yield powerful research platform

Why visual stimulation may work against Alzheimer’s

May 7, 2019
Research Findings
New findings help explain the surprising discovery that exposure to flickering light reduces amyloid plaques in mice

A comprehensive map of how Alzheimer’s affects the brain

May 1, 2019
Research findings
Analysis of genes altered by the disease could provide targets for new treatments

Study reveals how glial cells may play key epilepsy role

April 30, 2019
Research findings
Mutation in disease model flies undermines maintenance of key ion balance

Alana gift to MIT launches Down syndrome research center, technology program for disabilities

March 20, 2019
New Research Center
Foundation’s $28.6 million gift will fund science, innovation, education to advance understanding, ability, inclusion.

Blending big data and benchtop biology, Tsai and Kellis labs tackle brain diseases

February 21, 2019
News Feature
With new grants, collaboration will take on new questions of dementia

Nedivi named to new professorship

February 7, 2019
Picower People
Elly Nedivi is the inaugural William R. (1964) & Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience

Study shows how specific gene variants may raise bipolar disorder risk

January 9, 2019
Research findings
Findings could help inform new therapies, improve diagnosis

MIT biologists discover an unusual hallmark of aging in neurons

November 27, 2018
Research findings
Snippets of RNA that accumulate in brain cells could interfere with normal function

Protein pair quickly makes memories of new places

June 4, 2018
Research Findings
Encountering novel contexts cues the brain to churn out neurogranin

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.

Kwanghun Chung receives NIH New Innovator Award

October 13, 2016
Awards
Award will support the development of technologies that can enable a better understanding of complex biological systems.

Synapse Mapping

A typical neuron has thousands of synapses that connect it with other neurons in neural circuits. The location, type and constantly changing strength of each of these synapses determine how each neuron plays its role in the brain and how circuits are remodeled by experience. Research at the Picower Institute to map synapses is therefore essential to understanding how neural connections underlie brain functions and disease.

Elly Nedivi

William R. (1964) & Linda R. Young Professor of Neuroscience
Nedivi’s lab investigates the cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent plasticity through studies of synaptic and neuronal remodeling, identification of participating genes, and characterization of the cellular functions of the proteins they encode.

Kwanghun Chung

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Neuroscience
Chung’s interdisciplinary research team develops technologies for holistic understanding of large-scale complex biological systems. Methods including CLARTIY, MAP and SWITCH enable identification of multi-scale functional networks and interrogation of their system-wide, multifactorial interactions.

Troy Littleton

Menicon Professor in Neuroscience
Littleton studies how neurons form synaptic connections, how synapses transmit information, and how synapses change during learning and memory. The research combines molecular biology, protein biochemistry, electrophysiology, and imaging approaches with Drosophila genetics.

Symposium spotlights crucial roles of dendrites

October 18, 2021
Recent Events
Scholars from around the world gathered online to share new research on how intricately structured neural processes enable plasticity of circuit connections and help integrate incoming information to enable brain function

Study of synapse strength focuses on ‘active zones’

March 16, 2021
New Research
With new NIH grant, team will learn how neurons build key sites that release neurotransmitters a lot, or a little, to drive nervous system communication

Seemingly similar, two neurons show distinct styles as they interact with the same muscle partner

July 7, 2020
Research Findings
Diversity in how cells talk to the muscle they innervate reveal distinct propensities for change, or “plasticity”

Study finds ‘volume dial’ for turning neural communication up or down

May 6, 2020
Research Findings
The protein Synaptotagmin 7 limits supply of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles for release at synapses

‘Researching from Home’: Picower science stays strong even at a distance

April 1, 2020
News Feature
Institute researchers are advancing their work in many ways despite time away from the lab required to corral Covid-19

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

How brain cells pick which connections to keep

August 6, 2019
Research findings
Novel study shows protein CPG15 acts as a molecular proxy of experience to mark synapses for stabilization

Chung leads collaboration to make the best brain map yet

January 2, 2019
News Feature
Project will reveal the entire human brain, down to subcellular features

Four MIT faculty elected 2016 AAAS Fellows

November 21, 2016
Awards
Green, Ketterle, Nedivi, and Shrobe are among those recognized for their efforts toward advancing science.

Kwanghun Chung receives NIH New Innovator Award

October 13, 2016
Awards
Award will support the development of technologies that can enable a better understanding of complex biological systems.