Section of Neurobiology Reseach Programs

Faculty research programs span levels of analysis ranging from biophysics to behavior, including: function and localization of ion channels; synaptic plasticity; neural circuits for sensory processing, sensori-motor integration, and motivated behaviors; and mechanisms of learning and memory.

1. Behavior and Learning & Memory. How do neural circuits encode and retrieve information? Neurobiology researchers at USC are actively engaged in studies of the functional circuits that program performance of learning and behavior. Mechanistic dissection of the neural pathways underlying learning and behavior is carried out using an array of different approaches, including cutting-edge techniques to define the structure and morphology of neural tracts and single neurons, to measure the activity of single neurons in awake behaving animals, to assess synaptic plasticity and gene expression, and to activate/inactivate specific neural circuits to manipulate and assess their function. We are studying how the brain pays attention to salient stimuli, learns from experience, and generates appropriate actions.

The laboratories of Bottjer and Dickman are central to this area, although almost all our faculty are pursuing research relevant to this subject. The neural basis of emotion and motivation is represented in the laboratories of Swanson and Watts . The Arbib lab uses computational modeling to understand  the neuroscience of motion.



2. Cell Biology and Physiology of Neuronal Signaling. The Neurobiology PhD Program includes neural cell biologists using molecular, genetic, biochemical, and electrophysiological approaches to focus on protein trafficking, intracellular signaling cascades, transmitter release, synapse-glia interactions, sensory signaling, regulation of receptor function, and ion channels.

The laboratories of Arnold, Dickman, Liman , and McKemy use molecular techniques to study the cell biology and physiology of  neuronal signaling. The Ko laboratory examines the role of glial cells in synaptic transmission.



3. Sensory Processing and Sensori-Motor Integration. Neurobiology labs at USC have significant strengths in Sensory Biology and Sensory-Motor Integration. On-going research is focused on understanding the elementary processes underlying audition, chemosensation, touch, pain, and vision, as well as how motor systems interpret this information. Neurobiology faculty are investigating questions at molecular, cellular, and systems levels relating to function of these sensory systems, which are essential for our ability to interact and respond to an ever-changing environment. Collective expertise in genetics, neurophysiology, cell biology, neuroanatomy, behavior, and biochemistry are integrated in inter-disciplinary endeavors aimed at understanding fundamental problems in sensory function and dysfunction.

We have strengths in the area of sensory processing, including vision, somatosensation, chemosensation and taste, with the laboratories of Hirsch, Liman, and McKemy.

4. Systems Neuroscience. In the area of Systems Neuroscience, Neurobiology labs at USC are defining the structure and organization of neural circuits that underlie diverse functions and behavior. Faculty employ a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding how the brain works, combining neuroanatomical, electrophysiological, molecular biological, computational, imaging, and behavioral robotic approaches. Several labs focus on how the intrinsic and synaptic properties of individual neurons combine into functional circuits in order to give rise to perception, learning, motivation, and the production of specific behaviors.

The laboratories of Arbib, Bottjer, Hirsch, McKemy, Swanson, and Watts use interdisciplinary approaches to address intricacies of functional neural circuits.


5. Development, Disease and Repair. Studies of basic processes of neural development are an important aspect of research in the labs of Neurobiology faculty. What are the molecular cues that guide axons towards their synaptic targets? How do synapse formation, maintenance and repair play a role in disease? How does experience guide the refinement of neural circuits to achieve the exquisite specificity of neural connections that subserve normal function? All Neurobiology labs at USC pursue applications of basic-science research to applied questions of neural disease and injury, including neurodegeneration, communication disorders, and diseases of mental retardation. A mechanistic understanding of normal neuronal function is an essential pre-requisite for understanding diverse neural diseases as well as the design of therapeutic treatments endeavoring to reverse abnormal conditions in the nervous system.

From systems as simple as the neuromuscular junction to the complicated systems of songbird and mammalian brains the principles governing initial wiring of the nervous system during development, rewiring of neural circuits as a result of injury or experience and changes with aging are being studied. The laboratories of Bottjer, Finch , and Ko provide a strong focus in this area.

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Southern California
  • Allan Hancock Foundation Building
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371