Arbib, Michael

University Professor, Fletcher Jones Chair in Computer Science, and Professor of Computer Science, Biological Sciences, and Psychology

The thrust of Michael Arbib's work is expressed in the title of his first book, Brains, Machines and Mathematics (McGraw-Hill, 1964). The brain is not a computer in the current technological sense, but he has based his career on the argument that we can learn much about machines from studying brains, and much about brains from studying machines. He has thus always worked for an interdisciplinary environment in which computer scientists and engineers can talk to neuroscientists and cognitive scientists.

Arnold, Donald

Professor of Biological Sciences


The goal of my laboratory is to understand how ion channels are targeted to specific subcellular locations in neurons and how electrical activity can modulate that targeting. To address these questions we are using the following techniques: dissociated neuronal cultures or organotypic brain slices, confocal and 2-photon microscopy, and biochemistry.

Bottjer, Sarah

Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology


The major goal of our lab is to understand how experience sculpts neural circuits for learning during development. Sensitive periods of development are characterized by periods of heightened capacity for both neural and behavioral change. That is, they represent "windows of opportunity" during which brain and behavior are most susceptible to modification by experiential factors in the external environment and/or changes in internal milieu (such as levels of hormones and growth factors). Certain types of learning occur only during sensitive periods of development, and coincide with heightened phases of neural plasticity. In humans, for example, children are much more adept at learning languages than are adults, and the time at which the capacity for language acquisition decreases seems to correlate with the end of the period of maturation of the cerebral hemispheres.

Chen, Lin

Professor of Biological Sciences


One area of our research centers on the mechanisms of eukaryotic gene regulation, including the molecular basis of signal transduction, transcription regulation and epigenetic control of chromosome structure. Specific projects in this area include structural and functional studies of NFAT, MEF2, FOXP3, and several transcription factors implicated in stem cell pluripotency and lineage control. Another area of research focuses on the structure and function of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) and other ligand-gated ion channels (LGICs) in neuronal signaling. We use X-ray crystallography and other biochemical methods to characterize molecular complexes of interest. Based on the structures, we use mutagenesis to further analyze the functions of these complexes in vitro and in vivo. An important aspect of our research is to combine structural biology and chemical design to study the function of bio-macromolecular complexes. We seek to develop new biochemical techniques and cell permeable small molecules for studying the function of protein complexes in vivo. The broad goal of our studies is to understand how protein-protein interactions control the specificity of biological processes inside cells. Through this knowledge we hope to gain the ability to control specific protein-protein interactions for developing research tools and therapeutic drugs.

Dickman, Dion

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences 


Synapse development, function, and plasticity using a combination of Drosophila genetics, confocal imaging, and electrophysiological approaches.

Finch, Caleb

University Professor, ARCO/William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging and Professor of Gerontology, Biology and Psychology


Finch's main interests are the genomic regulation of aging processes. He has authored three books: Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome (1990); Aging: A Natural History (1995, with R. Ricklefs); Chance, Development, and Aging (2000, with TBL Kirkwood); and The Biology of Human Longevity (2007). In 450 reports and reviews since 1966, Finch has lead several developments in the fields of the neuroendocrinology and pharmacology of normal aging and Alzheimer disease, and in the biodemography of aging.

Herrera, Albert

Professor of Biological Sciences

Hires, S. Andrew

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Andrew Hires first studied Brain and Cognitive Sciences as an undergrad at MIT. In 2007, he received his Ph.D. in Neurosciences in the lab of Roger Tsien at UCSD where he developed genetically encoded fluorescent reporters of neuronal activity. This was followed by a brief post-doc with Loren Looger at Janelia Farm, where he worked on development of genetically encoded calcium indicators.  His current work as a post-doc with Karel Svoboda, also at Janelia Farm, focuses on the cortical circuits governing sensory-motor integration in the mouse. He is also the author of a popular neuroscience blog, Brain Windows.


Hirsch, Judith

Professor of Biological Sciences


Somehow, the cerebral cortex translates the dappled images it receives from the retina via the thalamus into a coherent perception of the visual world. Our research explores the earliest stages of visual cortical processing. Specifically, we ask how thalamocortical connections and circuits within the striate cortex itself resolve basic features of the visual scene. The main approach is whole-cell recording with dye-filled electrodes from the thalamus and the cortex in vivo. With this technique we can resolve synaptic integration during vision and ultimately correlate physiological response with anatomical profile. Individual projects are designed to explore key aspects of cortical integration, such as interaction between synaptic input and intrinsic properties of the membrane, functional specializations of intracortical pathways and the synaptic basis and physiology of responses to visual pattern.

Ko, Chien-Ping

Professor of Biological Sciences


Among the most challenging questions in neurobiology is how synaptic connections form, function, and maintain at the appropriate targets in normal and diseased nervous system.  Using electrophysiological, morphological, and molecular approaches, we examine the role of synaptic molecules in transmitter release, as well as the role of glial cells in synapse formation, maintenance and repair.  We also use transgenic mice to investigate the disease mechanisms of ALS (also called Lou Gehrig's disease), a late-onset motoneuron disorder, and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a leading genetic cause of infant mortality characterized by the loss of spinal motoneurons and muscle atrophy.  We are studying the possible contribution of synapse loss or defects to the pathogenesis of these motor neuron diseases.

Liman, Emily

Professor of Biological Sciences


My laboratory investigates the molecular mechanisms that underlie taste and other chemical senses and the regulation of TRP ion channels involved in these processes, using a combination of approaches that include cellular imaging, patch clamp electrophysiology, mouse genetics and molecular biology.

Mcclure, William

Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

McKemy, David

Head of the Section of Neurobiology

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences


Peripheral sensory neurons detect chemical, mechanical, and thermal stimuli, and critically differentiate those that are pleasant from those that cause tissue damage and pain (nociception). We use a combination of cellular, genetic, and behavioral approaches to understand how these somatosensory nerves transduce these discrete environmental stimuli, and their contribution to inflammatory and neuropathic pain.

Simerly, Richard



The development of the brain depends on complex interactions between genetic factors and environmental influences, such as neuronal activity, growth factors and circulating hormones. Hormones secreted by peripheral organs can determine the number and chemical phenotype of specific sets of neurons during development, as well as direct formation of connections with other parts of the brain. Currently, we are studying the organization and development of forebrain pathways that regulate feeding and energy homeostasis. Recent findings indicate that these neural pathways develop under the influence of the adipocyte derived hormone leptin during discrete temporal domains, suggesting that there are region-specific, hormonally directed mechanisms governing the assembly of homeostatic circuits. Using axonal labeling methods and both in vitro and in vivo experimental approaches, we are determining if manipulations of genes known to participate in leptin signaling in mature animals also influence the development of the pathways that mediate hypothalamic responses to changes in energy balance. The results of this work indicate that leptin is indeed a major developmental factor that may mediate the developmental effects of a variety of environmental factors including nutrition.

Swanson, Larry

Milo Don and Lucille Appleman Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Psychology

Provost Professor

Member National Academy of Sciences


We are interested in the organization of neural networks that control motivated behavior in mammals. The approach is mostly structural, and to display and model results we are developing computer graphics and database approaches.

Watts, Alan

Professor of Biological Sciences, Physiology and Biophysics


Our work is directed towards understanding how the brain contributes to the development, manifestation, and complications of diabetes and obesity. How the brain and the body senses changes in blood glucose is a fundamental physiological process, the understanding of which is critical to the etiolology of both forms of diabetes. We are interested in how glucocorticoids and neurotransmitters interact with neurons in the hypothalamus, which is a major integrative locus for metabolic control. A major focus of our work is on sets of hindbrain catecholaminergic neurons that project to the forebrain. These neurons are crucial for detecting and encoding information about blood glucose levels. We investigate the way that catecholaminergic neurons and glucocorticoids affect signal transduction and gene regulatory mechanisms in sets of forebrain neurons responsible for regulating metabolism in health and disease.

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Southern California
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