Our goal, broadly-defined, is to understand the underlying computations and circuits that give rise to cognitive processes like attention and executive function. We are motivated by the remarkable flexibility we have at extracting meaningful information from a noisy world, and using it to guide thought and action. We also appreciate how these processes are perturbed in disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. By making progress in understanding the basic principles of cognitive function, devising new therapies is an expected outcome.
Our work focuses on understanding the role of the thalamus in cognition. While the knowledge about what the cortex does in cognitive processes like attention and executive control has expanded tremendously over the last several decades,our understanding of what the thalamus does is quite limited. The classical view of the thalamus is that of a relay to and between cortical regions, but we think that such a view is derived from the function of a few specialized thalamic circuits that participate in sensory processing. Plus, most of the thalamus in my head and yours is not even connected to the senses. Our work suggests that the thalamus is the functional backbone upon which distributed cortical computations are coordinated, sustained and switched. We are excited to more fully delineate the contribution of the thalamus to cognitive function, and to leverage its circuitry for ameliorating cognitive dysfunction in neuropsychiatric disorders.
brain’s switchboardScientists studied how just a few nerve cell in the mouse brain may control the switch between internal thoughts and external distractions. Using optogenetics, a technique that uses light-sensitive molecules to control nerve cell firing, the scientists were able to switch on and off drowsiness in mice.
Halassa Lab Researcher Among 126 “Outstanding Young Scholars”
Michael M. Halassa, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute, has been selected as a winner of the 2015 Sloan Research Fellowship.
The two-year fellowship is awarded to 126 researchers whose “achievements place them among the next generation of scientific leaders in the U.S. and Canada.” The award has been presented annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Past recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships have gone on to win 39 Nobel prizes, 16 Fields Medals (mathematics) and 13 John Bates Clark Medals (economics), according to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Two NYU Faculty Win Sloan Foundation Research Fellowships
Two New York University faculty have been awarded fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Michael Halassa, an assistant professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, and physiology at NYU Langone Neuroscience Institute, and Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies.
Past Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to notable careers and include physicist Richard Feynman and game theorist John Nash. Since the beginning of the program in 1955, 43 fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field, 16 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, and 65 have received the National Medal of Science.
Life In The Lab
We strive to create a happy and balanced, yet scientifically rigorous life in the lab.