MIT Neuroscience

MIT has numerous academic and research programs related to neuroscience. Key institutions include the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Department of Biological Engineering, and the MIT Media Lab.

Important neuroscience related centers include: Center for Neurobiological Engineering (CNBE); McGovern Institute Neurotechnology (MINT) program; Simons Center for the Social Brain (SCSB); Synthetic Biology Center;Picower Center for Learning and Memory; and the Martinos Imaging Center at MIT.

Aude Oliva, PhD – MIT

Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Principal Investigator, Computation Perception & Cognition Lab

Dr. Oliva's research program is in the field of Computational Visual Cognition, a framework that strives to identify the substrates of complex visual recognition tasks and to develop models inspired by human perception and cognition. The natural visual environment is composed of three-dimensional objects, with textures, colors, and materials, embedded in an explicit spatial layout.

Neural representation of visual memory

Principal Investigator: Aude Oliva - MIT
Title: Algorithmically explicit neural representation of visual memorability
BRAIN Category: Neuroengineering and brain-inspired concepts and design (#1532591)

We propose to combine three technologies to predict what makes an image memorable or forgettable: neuro-imaging technologies recording where encoding happens in the human brain (spatial scale), when it happens (temporal scale), and what types of computation are performed at the different stages of storage (computational scale.

Time, Space, and Computation – Aude Oliva

Time, Space and Computation: Converging Human Neuroscience and Computer Science

Video from BRAIN Workshop - "Research Interfaces between Brain Science and Computer Science"

December 3-5, 2014 Washington, DC

Published on Jan. 5, 2015 by computingresearch

Vascular Interfaces for Brain Imaging

PI: Robert Desimone
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Title: "Vascular Interfaces for Brain Imaging and Stimulation"
BRAIN category: Next Generation Human Imaging (RFA MH-14-217)

Dr. Desimone's project will access the brain through its network of blood vessels to less invasively image, stimulate and monitor electrical and molecular activity than existing methods.

Multiplexed Nanoscale In Situ Proteomics

PI: Edwards S. Boyden
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Title: "Ultra-Multiplexed Nanoscale In Situ Proteomics for Understanding Synapse Types"
BRAIN category: Tools for Cells and Circuits (RFA MH-14-216)

Dr. Boyden's team will simultaneously image both the identities and locations of multiple proteins within individual synapses – made possible by a new technique called DNA-PAINT.

Nontoxic transsynaptic tracing

Principal Investigator: Ian Wickersham
MIT Neuroscience
Title: "Novel technologies for nontoxic transsynaptic tracing"
BRAIN Category: Tools for Cells and Circuits (RFA MH-14-216)

Dr. Wickersham and colleagues will develop nontoxic viral tracers to assist in the study of neural circuitry underlying complex behaviors.

Elly Nedivi, PhD – MIT

Professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences and Biology, MIT Neuroscience
Principal Investigator, Nedivi Lab

The Nedivi lab, part of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, 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.

Calcium sensors for molecular fMRI

PI: Alan Jasanoff
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Title: "Calcium sensors for molecular fMRI"
BRAIN category: Large-Scale Recording-Modulation - New Technologies (RFA NS-14-007)

Dr. Jasanoff's team will synthesize calcium-sensing contrast agents that will allow functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to reveal activity of individual brain cells

Next generation imaging in vivo

Principal Investigator: Elly Nedivi
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyTitle: "Next generation high-throughput random access imaging, in vivo"
BRAIN category: Large-Scale Recording-Modulation - Optimization (RFA NS-14-008)

Dr. Nedivi's team proposes a new imaging technology to simultaneously record activity at each of the thousands of synapses, or communication points, on a single neuron.

Emery Brown, MD, PhD – MIT

Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Health Sciences and Technology, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology
At large member of the Multi-Council Working Group

Brown's lab is using a systems neuroscience approach to study how the state of general anesthesia is induced and maintained. To do so, the lab is using fMRI, EEG, neurophysiological recordings, microdialysis methods and mathematical modeling.

Neurotech 1: Multi-Photon Microscopy

"How do we see neurons, the brain’s principal functional units? Discover new views made possible by Multi-photon microscopy."

Part 1 of 12 featuring MIT Professors Elly Nedivi and Peter So.

Video published on Sept. 24, 2014 by EyeWire

Alan Jasanoff: McGovern Institute Investigator

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revolutionized our understanding of the human brain, but the method is now approaching the limit of its capabilities. Alan Jasanoff hopes to break through this limit and to develop new technologies for imaging the molecular and cellular phenomena that underlie brain function.

Video published on Mar 9, 2010 by mittechtv

Molecular Probes for Noninvasive Neuroimaging

"The B.R.A.I.N. Initiative faces a major technological barrier in obtaining high resolution, real-time recordings of brain activity over large areas of the brain. Leading researchers will explore available and promising approaches to surmounting that barrier, exploring current work and future possibilities for the detection and recording of the range of relevant electrical and chemical signals in the nervous system."

Presentation by Alan Jasanoff of Jasnoff Lab research
Published on June 16, 2014 by Calit2ube

McGovern Institute: Understanding the Brain in Health and Disease

Robert Desimone, Director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, gives a keynote address at the Institute's 10th anniversary celebration on October 14, 2010.

Published on Nov. 12, 2010 by MITtechTV

A mouse. A laser beam. A manipulated memory.

"Can we edit the content of our memories? It's a sci-fi-tinged question that Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu are asking in their lab at MIT. Essentially, the pair shoot a laser beam into the brain of a living mouse to activate and manipulate its memory. In this unexpectedly amusing talk they share not only how, but -- more importantly -- why they do this."

Filmed June 2013 at TEDx Boston 2013
Uploaded to YouTube on August 15,, 2013 by TED

A neural portrait of the human mind

"Brain imaging pioneer Nancy Kanwisher, who uses fMRI scans to see activity in brain regions (often her own), shares what she and her colleagues have learned: The brain is made up of both highly specialized components and general-purpose "machinery." Another surprise: There's so much left to learn."

Filmed March 2014 at TED 2014
Uploaded to YouTube on October 2, 2014 by TED

edX course: Light, Spike, & Sight: The Neuroscience of Vision

Light, Spike, & Sight: The Neuroscience of Vision
MITx: 9.01.1x Course

Vision may feel effortless: you open your eyes, and the world appears. But the process of focusing light into image on the back of the eye and translating it into meaningful nerve signals is incredibly complex. The retina and visual cortex are packed with intricate processing circuitry, and have been a mystery to neuroscientists for centuries. Now, answers are beginning to emerge.

How we read each other’s minds

Sensing the motives and feelings of others is a natural talent for humans. But how do we do it? Here, Rebecca Saxe shares fascinating lab work that uncovers how the brain thinks about other peoples' thoughts -- and judges their actions.

Filmed July 2009 at TED Global 2009
Uploaded to YouTube on Sep 11, 2009 by TED

Zhang uses optogenetics to understand the brain

Feng Zhang, an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and a core member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, discusses the work of his research team on the brain and its relationship to the President's Brain Initiative. He spoke with NSF's Lisa-Joy Zgorski during his visit to NSF in May of 2014 to receive NSF's most prestigious award for young investigators, the Alan T. Waterman Award, with which he was awarded $1 million to further his research.

NSF BRAIN Initiative
Published APRIL 2, 2014

Optogenetics pioneer observes neuron behavior with light

Optogenetics is a revolutionary field that allows scientists to selectively turn targeted neurons in animal brains on and off. Ed Boyden, of MIT, is one of the pioneering optogenetics research that may help us understand and treat brain disorders.

For more information about the BRAIN Initiative visit: nsf.gov/brain

NSF BRAIN Initiative
Published APRIL 2, 2014

Nedivi Lab – MIT

Principal Investigator, Elly Nedivi
MIT Neuroscience

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, part of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, 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.

Jasanoff Lab – MIT

Principal Investigator, Alan Jasanoff
MIT Neuroscience

Jasanoff Lab is developing a new generation of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to study the neural mechanisms of behavior.The Lab's focus is on the design and application of new contrast agents that may help define spatiotemporal patterns of neural activity with far better precision and resolution than current techniques allow. Experiments using the new agents will combine the specificity of cellular neuroimaging with the whole brain coverage and noninvasiveness of conventional fMRI.

Alan Jasanoff, PhD – MIT

Associate Professor of Biological Engineering with appointments in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT Neuroscience
Associate member of the McGovern Institute
Principal Investigator, Jasanoff Lab

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revolutionized our understanding of the human brain, but the method is now approaching the limit of its capabilities. Alan Jasanoff hopes to break through this limit and to develop new technologies for imaging the molecular and cellular phenomena that underlie brain function.

Desimone Laboratory – MIT

Principal Investigator, Robert Dismone
MIT Neuroscience

Desimone is interested in how the brain deals with the challenge of information overload. Some messages contain relevant information, but many do not. By studying the visual system of humans and animals, Desimone has shown that relevant information is selectively amplified in certain brain regions, while irrelevant information is suppressed. One reason this happens is that neurons whose activity reflects the relevant information become synchronized with one another.

Robert Desimone, PhD – MIT

Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Director, McGovern Institute for Brain Research

Robert Desimone studies the brain mechanisms that allow us to focus our attention on a specific task while filtering out irrelevant distractions. Our brains are constantly bombarded with sensory information. The ability to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant distractions is a critical skill, one that is impaired in many brain disorders.

Synthetic Neurobiology Group – MIT

MIT Neuroscience
Principal Investigator: Ed Boyden, Ph.D.

The Synthetic Neurobiology Group develops tools that enable the mapping of the molecules and wiring of the brain, the recording and control of its neural dynamics, and the repair of its dysfunction.The Group applies these to the systematic analysis of brain computations, aiming to reveal the fundamental mechanisms of brain function, and yielding new, ground-truth therapeutic strategies for neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Ed Boyden, PhD – MIT

Associate Professor and AT&T Chair, MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute, Departments of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Co-Director, MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering
Principal Investigator, Synthetic Biology Group

Ed Boyden develops new strategies for analyzing and engineering brain circuits to develop broadly applicable methodologies that reveal fundamental mechanisms of complex brain processes. A major goal of his current work is the development of technologies for controlling nerve cells using light.

Laboratory of Mriganka Sur – MIT

Principal Investigator: Mriganka Sur
MIT Neuroscience

The goal of the Sur Lab is to understand long-term plasticity and short-term dynamics in networks of the developing and adult cortex, and how disruption of any of these network properties leads to brain disorders. Development of real time, high-speed imaging, activity-sensitive dyes, and light-sensitive ion channels are currently fueling the Lab's exploration of the varied and plastic networks these cells form.

Mriganka Sur, PhD – MIT

Professor of Neuroscience, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Director, Simons Center for the Social Brain
Principal Investigator, Laboratory of Mriganka Sur

Dr. Sur studies the organization, development and plasticity of the cerebral cortex of the brain using experimental and theoretical approaches. He has discovered fundamental principles by which networks of the cerebral cortex are wired during development and change dynamically during learning.

Genetic Neuroengineering Group

Head: Ian Wickersham
MIT Neuroscience

Research interests: viral vector engineering, synthetic biology. Engineering genetic tools for neuroscience.

Ian Wickersham, PhD – MIT

Research Scientist
Head of MIT Genetic Neuroengineering Group

Research interests: viral vector engineering, synthetic biology. Engineering genetic tools for neuroscience.

Cortical circuits and information flow

Principal Investigator: Mriganka Sur
MIT Neuroscience
Title: "Cortical circuits and information flow during memory-guided perceptual decisions"
BRAIN Category:

Dr. Sur and his team will combine a number of cutting-edge, large-scale imaging and computational techniques to determine the exact brain circuits involved in generating short term memories that influence decisions.

Expansion microscopy and super-resolution

MIT engineers have developed a way to make a brain expand to about four and a half times its usual size, allowing nanoscale structures to appear sharp with an ordinary confocal microscope.

The new “expansion microscopy” technique uses an expandable polymer and water to enable researchers to achieve “super-resolution” without the slower performance of existing “super-resolution” microscopes.

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