The Adelson lab studies various problems in visual perception, from the standpoints of both human vision and computer vision. Current topics involve "mid-level" visual processing, including perceptual organization, as applied to motion, transparency, lightness, and texture. We are also studying the perception of materials, i.e., how it is that we can tell that something is shiny or translucent, or that it is made of plastic or metal. In much of our work, the we are interested how humans (and machines) can utilize image statistics (such as those derived from wavelet decompositions) to perform visual tasks. Some of our work has applications to image processing problems, such as image data compression, video coding, and image denoising.
The overarching interest of the Bear lab is in the question of how experience and deprivation modify synaptic connections in the brain. Experience-dependent synaptic plasticity is the physical substrate of memory, sculpts connections during postnatal development to determine the capabilities and limitations of brain functions, is responsible for the reorganization of the brain after damage, and is vulnerable in numerous psychiatric and neurological diseases and contributes to their symptoms.
One of the central questions in the field of motor control is to understand how our motor goals are translated into actions. The Bizzi laboratory has elaborated a theoretical and experimental framework that describes the way in which the central nervous system transforms planned movements into muscle activations. Among the techniques used by the lab are behavioral training, cortical recording from single neurons, electromyographic (EMG) recording of muscle activity, microstimulation, cellular inactivation, kinematic measurement of movements in three dimensions, functional imaging, and computational modeling. Experimental models currently include frogs (including spinalized and spinal cord-isolated preparations), rats, cats, rhesus monkeys, and humans (both patients and normal subjects). The Bizzi lab is affiliated with the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
The Boyden group, centered in the MIT Media Lab and jointly affiliated with the MIT Department of Biological Engineering and the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, works on inventing new tools for the analysis and engineering of brain circuits. We have been developing molecules, hardware, and methods to activate,silence, record, and analyze neural activity and circuit signaling, within and between brain circuits. We also work on novel, focal, noninvasive methods for human brain stimulation.
A primary focus of the research in the Brown laboratory is the development of statistical methods and signal-processing algorithms for neuroscience data analysis, using combinations of likelihood, Bayesian, state-space, time-series and point process approaches. The laboratory is also using a systems neuroscience approach to study how the state of general anesthesia is induced and maintained. The long-term goal of this research is to establish a neurophysiological definition of anesthesia, safer, site-specific anesthetic drugs and to develop better neurophysiologically-based methods for measuring depth of anesthesia.
We use multiple approaches including traditional- and CRISPR-based genome editing, molecular, optogenetic, electrophysiological, and imaging techniques to understand 1) how olfactory stimuli are transformed to behavioral outputs as function of learning and 2) how the immune system modulates neural circuits to shape and guide behavioral outputs.
The Chung laboratory is an interdisciplinary research team devoted to developing and applying novel technologies (e.g. CLARITY) for integrative and comprehensive understanding of large-scale complex biological systems.
The development of the vertebrate brain involves a phase of synaptogenesis during which the activity patterns of young neurons mediate a competition that allows only highly effective synapses to survive. These activity-dependent developmental events are responsible for many of the adaptive changes in brain wiring as children mature and it is also likely to be responsible for some of the devastating and permanent behavioral effects of genetically or environmentally caused disruptions in normal early brain activity. The Constantine - Patton laboratory investigates the mechanisms involved in this developmental synaptic plasticity. Specifically, we are trying to dissect the signaling cascades through which synaptic activity determines which young synapses will be withdrawn and which ones will be retained to mediate adult brain function.
The Desimone lab's research focuses on the neural bases of attention and executive control, which are frequently abnormal in major mental diseases. His lab combines neurophysiological recording in animals and fMRI and MEG brain imaging techniques in humans to understand how neural circuits filter out distracting information. His lab is particularly interested in the role of synchronized neural activity in attentional control.
The research goal of the DiCarlo laboratory is to understand the mechanisms underlying visual object recognition. Specifically, we seek to understand how sensory input is transformed by the brain from an initial representation (essentially a photograph on the retina), to a new, remarkably powerful form of representation -- one that can support our seemingly effortless ability to solve the computationally difficult problem of object recognition.
The Fee lab studies how the brain learns and generates complex sequential behaviors, with a focus on the songbird as a model system. Birdsong is a complex behavior that young birds learn from their fathers and it provides an ideal system to study the neural basis of learned behavior. Because the parts of the bird's brain that control song learning are closely related to human circuits that are disrupted in brain disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, Fee hopes the lessons learned from birdsong will provide new clues to the causes and possible treatment of these conditions.
Synapses are fundamental units of neuronal connectivity in the brain. It is at these specialized cell junctions that neurons communicate with one another. Many neuroscientists now look to the synapse for principles of learning and memory, for processes underlying behavior, and for pathological mechanisms of various neurological and psychiatric disorders. The Feng lab's long-term goal is to understand the mechanisms regulating the development and function of synapses and to probe the roles of synaptic and circuitry dysfunction in certain abnormal behaviors and their relevance to psychiatric disorders. There are currently three major aspects of research in the lab.
The goal of the Flavell lab is to understand how neural circuits generate long-lasting behavioral states. By monitoring and manipulating the simple, well-defined nervous system of C. elegans, we aim to identify cellular and circuit mechanisms that organize animal behaviors over seconds, minutes, and hours.
The goal of the Gabrieli lab is to understand principles of brain organization that are consistent across individuals and those that vary across people due to age, personality, and other dimensions of individuality. Therefore, we examine brain-behavior relations across the life span, from children through the elderly. Our primary methods are brain imaging (functional and structural), and the experimental behavioral study of patients with brain injuries. The majority of our studies involve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but we also employ other brain measures as needed to address scientific questions, including electroencephalography (EEG).
Research in the Gibson Lab (a.k.a. TedLab) is aimed at investigating how people learn, represent and process language. In addition, we have recently started to investigate the relationship between language, cognition and culture. We use a variety of methods, including behavioral experiments (e.g., reading and listening studies, lexical priming experiments, dual-task experiments, individual differences studies), statistical modeling and corpus analyses. In collaboration with other labs we also use eye-tracking methods, event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional MRI. Below are the major lines of research and research questions pursued in the lab.
The same brain that can construct language, music and mathematics also lets us develop habits of thought and action. These semi-automatic routines free us to think and attend to the world. But the habit system can also be hijacked by disease and drug exposure. The Graybiel Laboratory focuses on the habit system of the brain and our remarkable ability to switch from conscious activity to nearly non-conscious behavior. The goal of this research is to understand how we make and break habits and how the neurobiology of the habit system is helping to advance understanding of human problems ranging from Parkinson’s disease to obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders and addiction.
The Harnett laboratory studies how the biophysical features of neurons, including ion channels, receptors, and membrane electrical properties, endow neural circuits with powerful processing capabilities, ultimately allowing them to perform the complex computations required to drive adaptive behavior.
Dr. Heiman’s work seeks to understand the cell type-specific mechanisms responsible for neuronal vulnerability in aging and neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s disease.
The contribution of the oculomotor system to the acquisition and maintenance of visually guided behavior is being examined in cats. Surgical immobilization of an eye in dark-reared kittens precludes development of guidance when the paralyzed eye is provided exposure in light. Light-reared animals retain visual guidance following eye immobilization surgery. Similarly, when proprioception from ocular musculature is surgically interrupted in dark-reared kittens, they fail to acquire visually guided behaviors when later exposed in light. The findings imply that both visually elicited eye movements and proprioception from the extraocular muscles are essential to acquisition of visually guided behaviors, while their role is reduced following this development.
Study of the developing visual system provides an important perspective on the functioning of vision and on its neuronal substrate. It also has provided new insights into the causes of pathological development and the treatments thereof. Most of the research on neuronal structure and function has out of necessity been performed on animal preparations. In recent years, however, we, in the Held laboratory and in a clinical setting, have developed noninvasive procedures for studying visual development in human infants and children.
The Hockfield laboratory has studied molecular substrates of mammalian development. We identified a family of glycovariants of the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteoglycan, aggrecan, whose expression is regulated by neuronal activity early in an animal's life. Expression of the aggrecan glycoforms is regulated in parallel with critical period events and may play a role in stabilizing mature synaptic relationships. A related ECM protein, BEHAB/brevican, is expressed when glial cells travel during development and after brain injury. BEHAB/brevican is also expressed at very high levels in brain tumors, and can mediate the motility of tumor cells. A key feature of our work has been to bring biochemical and molecular biological techniques to the classical anatomical analysis of mammalian CNS development.
Hogan's research in the Newman Laboratory emphasizes forceful interaction between the motor control systems of humans and machines (i.e., robots). Recent work pioneered therapeutic neurobotics to promote recovery after brain injury. It provides durable benefits even for chronic-phase stroke survivors, suggesting that with appropriate stimulation neural plasticity may be harnessed even long after injury. Devices to address balance, gait and abnormal lower-limb motor synergies, both in animals and humans, are in development or beginning trials.
H. Robert Horvitz has devoted much of his career to studying the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Only 1 mm long and containing fewer than 1000 cells, C. elegans has proved to be remarkably informative for studying many biological problems, including the genetic control of development and behavior and the mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative disease.
A new generation of brain scanning methods will combine the specificity of cellular neuroimaging with the noninvasiveness and coverage of functional magnetic resonance imaging. The Jasanoff Laboratory is developing molecular strategies to help achieve this. We work on the chemistry and biochemistry of novel neuroimaging agents, and our overall goal is to apply the new agents for high-resolution analyses of the neural mechanisms of simple behavior in animals.
When we think of behavior, we think of neural code, and when we think of neurons and neuronal networks, we think of neural dynamics. The link between brain and behavior thus resides at the intersection between the neural code and neural dynamics. The long-term objective of research in my lab is to understand (1) how neurons and neural circuits generate and control dynamic patterns of activity, and (2) how those patterns encode behaviorally relevant information.
We tackle these question by performing experiments on animals trained to perform a wide array of cognitive tasks that require anticipation, integration, coordination, and timing – functions that depend on the brain’s internally-generated dynamics. We combine psychophysics, electrophysiology, optogenetics, machine learning, and computational modeling to uncover the mechanisms that shape neural dynamics, and the principles that put those dynamics to use in the control of behavior.
The Kanwisher lab investigates the functional organization of the brain as a window into the architecture of the human mind. In the past, our lab has discovered a number of cortical regions that are stunningly specialized for specific cognitive tasks such as the perception of faces, places, bodies, and words. Current work is attempting to better characterize the function of each of these regions, to test long-standing but unresolved claims of other cortical specializations (e.g., for language), and to search for new unpredicted specializations using novel clustering methods (in collaboration with Polina Golland). More generally, we want to know which mental functions get their own specialized piece of cortical territory and why we have cortical regions specialized for some mental functions, but apparently not others.
Roger Levy asks theoretical and applied questions about the processing and acquisition of natural language, with a focus on how linguistic communication resolves uncertainty over a potentially unbounded set of possible signals and meanings.
How are transient sensory experiences captured and stored in the brain? The main focus of the Lin lab is to explore the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which experience is coupled to modifications of neural circuits that lead to long term behavioural changes.
The computational power of the brain depends on synaptic connections that link together billions of neurons. The focus of the Littleton laboratory's work is to understand the mechanisms by which neurons form synaptic connections, how synapses transmit information, and how synapses change during learning and memory. To complement this basic research in neuroscience, we also study how alterations in neuronal signaling underlie several neurological diseases, including epilepsy, autism and Huntington’s Disease. We combine molecular biology, protein biochemistry, electrophysiology, and imaging approaches with Drosophila genetics to address these questions.
Operating at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, and engineering, the McDermott lab’s long term goals include understanding the computational principles underlying human hearing, improving devices for assisting those whose hearing is impaired and designing more effective machine systems for recognizing and interpreting sound.
The Miller Laboratory uses experimental and theoretical approaches to study the neural basis of cognition. We investigate how categories, concepts, and rules are learned, mental flexibility, how attention is focused, and, more generally, how the brain coordinates goal-directed thought and action.
The capacity of the brain to modify connections in response to levels of activity is termed plasticity. Plasticity is a prominent feature of brain development, and in the adult underlies learning and memory and adaptive reorganization of sensory maps. The Nedivi lab studies the cellular mechanisms that underlie activity-dependent plasticity in the developing and adult brain through studies of neuronal structural dynamics, identification of the participating genes, and characterization of the proteins they encode.
The Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM) aims to create a new field — the Science and Engineering of Intelligence — by bringing together computer scientists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists to work in close collaboration. This new field is dedicated to developing a computationally based understanding of human intelligence and establishing an engineering practice based on that understanding.
The overall goal of research in the Potter lab is to understand the very rapid processes involved in perceiving, comprehending, and remembering meaningful material such as words, sentences, or pictures. We've discovered that the meaning of a pictured scene or written word is understood in a fraction of a second, much faster than the time required for stabilizing even a brief memory of that stimulus -- unless the stimulus fits into the viewer's current mental context, like a word that is part of a sentence. To study these processes we use rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) of words or pictures to mimic continuous reading or viewing. Our research subjects either look for particular targets in these sequences or are tested afterward to assess memory.
The Prelec lab studies the psychology and neuroscience of decision-making, favoring problems that involve risky choice, time discounting, self-control and consumer behavior. They also have a longstanding interest in non-verifiable subjective judgments, specifically, in developing methods for eliciting such judgments and for assessing their quality and credibility. Non-verifiable judgments include forecasts of the remote future, historical conjectures, counterfactual hypotheses, and phenomenological 'first-person' reports of internal states.
Fruit flies can learn. They can identify a specific chemical odor that they have experienced with electric shock and avoid it. Moreover, they can remember to avoid it for several days. The Quinn lab is investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying learning acquisition and memory storage by inducing and selecting single-gene mutations that affect learning or memory, and by engineering transgenic fly strains that disrupt these processes.
We live in a three-dimensional world, but each of our eyes only receives a two-dimensional image. How does our brain combine these images?
The Saxe lab studies Theory of Mind as a case study in the deeper and broader question: how does the brain - an electrical and biological machine - construct abstract thoughts? We use functional neuroimaging, behavioural studies with kids and adults, patient studies, and transcranial magnetic stimulation to study abstract representations in the human brain. In addition to Theory of Mind, our recent research investigates brain development, moral reasoning, causal reasoning, and language. We are interested in students or post-docs with backgrounds in philosophy, computer science, or systems neuroscience, in addition to psychology and cognitive neuroscience.
Research in the Schiller laboratory is concerned with the functions of the mammalian visual and oculomotor systems. The work is carried out in both humans and monkeys and involves behavioral studies, fMRI imaging procedures, single-cell recordings, microstimulation, and pharmacological manipulations.
Current research in the Schneider lab involves axon regeneration in the central nervous system with functional recovery; special topics in human neuropsychology and perception; studies of the brains of sea mammals.
MIT Early Childhood Cognition Lab lead investigator Laura Schulz studies learning in early childhood. Her research bridges computational models of cognitive development and behavioral studies in order to understand the origins of inquiry and discovery.
Using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques, research in the Sinha laboratory focuses on understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects through visual experience and how objects are encoded in memory. The lab's experimental work on these issues involves studying healthy individuals and also those with neurological disorders such as autism. A key initiative of the lab is Project Prakash; this effort seeks to accomplish the twin goals of providing treatment to children with disabilities and also understanding mechanisms of learning and plasticity in the brain.
Professor Slotine is the Director of the Nonlinear Systems Laboratory which studies general mathematical principles of nonlinear system stability, adaptation, and learning, and how they apply to robots and to models of biological control. The lab is particularly interested in how stability and performance constraints shape system architecture, representation, and algorithms in robots, and in whether similar constraints may in some cases lead to similar mechanisms in biological systems. Tools from nonlinear control, such as sliding variables, wave variables, and contraction theory also suggest a number of simple models of physiological motor control, which may help understand the specific roles of hierarchies, motor primitives, and nerve transmission delays.
Plasticity, or the adaptive response of the brain to changes in inputs, is essential to brain development and function. The developing brain requires a genetic blueprint but is also acutely sensitive to the environment. The adult brain constantly adapts to changes in stimuli, and this plasticity is manifest not only as learning and memory but also as dynamic changes in information transmission and processing. The goal of the Sur laboratory is to understand long-term plasticity and short-term dynamics in networks of the developing and adult cortex. In addition, we aim to use insights from brain development to understand mechanisms of developmental brain disorders.
The Tenenbaum laboratory studies the computational basis of human learning and inference. Through a combination of mathematical modeling, computer simulation, and behavioral experiments, we try to uncover the logic behind our everyday inductive leaps: constructing perceptual representations, separating “style” and “content” in perception, learning concepts and words, judging similarity or representativeness, inferring causal connections, noticing coincidences, predicting the future.
The main research interest in the Tonegawa laboratory is to decipher brain mechanisms subserving learning and memory. We seek to understand what happens in the brain when a memory is formed, when a fragile short-term memory is consolidated to a solid long-term memory, and when a memory formed previously is recalled on subsequent occasions. We also seek to understand the role of memory in decision-making, and how various external or internal factors, such as reward, punishment, attention and the subject’s emotional state, affect learning and memory. In summary, we study how the central nervous system in the brain enables our mind, with a focus on learning and memory.
The primary goal of the Tsai laboratory is to elucidate the pathological mechanisms underlying neurological disorders affecting learning and memory. The major research areas include brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. We are taking a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the molecular, cellular, and circuit basis of neurodegenerative disorders.
The Tye Lab employs a multi-disciplinary approach including optogenetic, in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiological, pharmacological and imaging techniques to find mechanistic explanations for how emotional and motivational states influence behavior, in health and disease.
My general area of research is the study of vision - including the processing of visual information by the human visual system, and computer vision. The goals of this research are to understand how our own visual system operates, and how to construct artificial systems with visual capabilities including, for example, aids for the visually impaired.
The Wexler ab/Normal Language Lab seeks to understand the nature of the computational system of human language in its many guises. We study most aspects of linguistic structure, including syntax, semantics, pragmatics and morphology. In pursuing these goals, we take as our primary linguistic data abnormal language, by which we mean nothing more than any system of language that seems to differ from standard adult language for biological reasons, including lack of maturation, difficulties in learning, and genetic variation.
The Wilson laboratory studies the neural processes within the hippocampus and neocortex that enable memories to form and persist over long periods of time. We use a technique that allows us to simultaneously record the activity of hundreds of individual neurons across multiple brain regions in freely behaving animals. When combined with genetic, pharmacological, and behavioral manipulations, these recordings allow us to gain a mechanistic understanding of how animals learn and remember.
The goal of the Wurtman laboratory is to discover safe and effective treatments for brain diseases. Over the years, we have used a common basic strategy for doing so:
- Doing fundamental research to identify a previously unsuspected control mechanism involving brain chemistry
- Confirming that this newly discovered mechanism is at work in the human brain
- Identifying a disease in which this mechanism goes awry
- Developing and testing potential treatments based on these discoveries
Xu Laboratory is interested in how neurons respond to external stimuli and induce changes in their neuronal properties that eventually lead to the encoding of the information in the neural circuit. This type of activity-dependent long lasting changes is generally called neural plasticity. One form of neural plasticity, the long-lasting changes in synaptic strength, synaptic plasticity is thought to be the cellular substrate for learning and memory. Membrane excitability and intracellular environment respond to incoming neural activity and fluctuate at different temporal domains with potentially different spatial constraints. These fluctuations can influence the induction and expression of synaptic plasticity.
The mammalian brain poses a formidable challenge to the study and treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases – owing to the complex interaction of genetic, epigenetic, and circuit-level mechanisms underlying pathogenesis. Technologies that facilitate functional dissection of distinct brain circuits are necessary for systematic identification of disease origin and therapy. The Zhang laboratory is developing and applying molecular and optical technologies for probing brain function in health and disease. We hope that these new approaches will improve our understanding and treatment of brain diseases.