Program in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (NLM)

Program in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (NLM)

Neurobiology of learning and memory has emerged as a major theme of research in the neurosciences at MIT. Understanding the neural bases for learning and memory is fundamental to addressing such diverse questions as how genes and experience influence brain development, how the brain remodels after injury or disease, how addictions arise and can be cured, how changes in the brain can lead to pathological expression of fear, and how disease and aging impair cognitive function. Success requires scientists trained to work and think at multiple levels of analysis, and to employ the advanced technology that allows these levels to be bridged.

The department’s Program in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (NLM) was conceived to provide a track for advanced graduate students (years 3-4) to apply complex, interdisciplinary approaches to the common intellectual theme of how information is stored in the nervous system and how these mechanisms go awry in mental illnesses. The program emphasizes an in-depth immersion in the neurobiology of learning and memory, preparing these talented student scientists for professional careers devoted to the scientific investigation of how information is stored and accessed by the nervous system and the application of this knowledge to relieve the burden of mental illness.

The structure of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, which has faculty working at all levels—from the most elementary mechanisms of synaptic transmission to the processes in the human brain required for cognition—puts MIT in a particularly strong position to provide this training. The department is a highly collaborative environment, and often graduate students form the link between labs. Students very commonly consult with other participating labs to learn methods that are not established in their host laboratory. Graduate students are encouraged to take full advantage of the “open door” policy and exploit the tremendous expertise of the participating faculty.

"The NLM program provided me the most valuable experience to launch my research career in neuroscience. As a graduate student, I was able to conduct experiments focusing on artificially manipulating memories in the rodent brain, as well to utilizing memory to modulate psychiatric disease-like states. With a lab of my own now, I am doubly appreciative of the advance training opportunity I was given. It's quite remarkable what can be achieved with such support." - Steve Ramirez, BCS PhD '15; Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, Boston University.

Image 1:  Beta-amyloid plaque deposits (red) disrupt mylelin (green) organization in the brain and activate microglia (orange), driving the inflammation, neurodegeneration, and cognitive disfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease. Rebecca Canter, Tsai laboratory

Image 2: Ramirez gives a tour of the Tonegawa laboratory

Program admission and requirements

To participate in the program, potential trainees must have completed the first two years of the department’s core curriculum, have chosen as a thesis advisor one of the NLM training faculty (currently members of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory (PILM), and demonstrated a strong research interest in the area of learning and memory through the selection of their thesis project. Candidates are identified by the department’s academic administration, based on their eligibility and academic record. Final student selections are based on merit and appropriate fit for the NLM traineeship.

Once accepted, trainees must complete five additional requirements:

  • Required course on Neural Plasticity/Learning and Memory (9.301) unless permission is secured to substitute. 9.301 is directed by Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa, and features guest lectures from NLM faculty and discussions of the primary literature of the field.
  • Clinical neuropsychiatry rotation at Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Weekly attendance and participation in the “Plastic Lunch” seminar series
  • Regular attendance at the department’s seminar series - Research presentation at the annual PILM retreat
NLM faculty

Mark Bear
Emery Brown
Kwanghun Chung
Steven Flavell
Myriam Heiman
Troy Littleton
Earl Miller
Elly Nedivi
Mriganka Sur
Susumu Tonegawa
Li-Huei Tsai
Kay Tye
Matthew Wilson
Weifeng Xu


To learn more about the NLM training program, please contact Mark Bear, NLM Training Director at