Our Team

We study the circuits underlying cognitive control and flexibility.

Principal Investigator

Michael Halassa

Michael Halassa

Principal Investigator

Michael Halassa is a neuroscientist who aims to understand the basic circuit mechanisms of how information is routed in the brain and how disruptions in these circuits can lead to neurological and psychiatric disorders. As a practicing psychiatrist he aims to develop novel approaches to diagnosing and treating these illnesses guided by insights both from the lab and clinic. View Dr. Halassa’s CV Here.

Research Scientists

Ralf Wimmer

Ralf Wimmer

Research Scientist

Ralf is working on a number of projects related to cognitive control and flexibility. He develops specific tasks geared towards isolating specific cognitive processes, as well as specific perturbations in disease. Ralf can be reached at Here.
Publications

Wells, M.F.*, Wimmer, R.D.*, Schmitt, L.I., Feng, G., Halassa, M.M., Thalamic reticular impairment underlies attention deficit in Ptchd1Y/- mice.  Nature (2016) doi: 10.1038/nature17427.

Chen, Z., Wimmer, R.D., Wilson, M.A., Halassa, M.M., Thalamic circuit mechanisms link sensory processing in sleep and attention. Front. Neural Circuits, 9:83 (2015).

Wimmer, R.D.*, Schmitt, L.I.*, Davidson, T.J., Nakajima, M., Deisseroth, K., Halassa, M.M., Thalamic control of sensory selection in divided attention. Nature, 526: 705–709 (2015), DOI: 10.1038/nature15398.

Schmitt, L.I., Wimmer, R.D., Astrocytic Regulation of Sleep Processes. Curr Sleep Medicine Rep (2015) 1:9–19, doi: 10.1007/s40675-014-0005-5

Halassa MM, Chen Z, Wimmer RD, Brunetti PM, Zhao S, Zikopoulos B, Wang F, Brown EN, Wilson MA. (2014) “State-dependent architecture of thalamic reticular subnetworks.” Cell, 158(4):808-21.

Brunetti PM*, Wimmer RD*, Liang L, Siegle JH, Voigts J, Wilson M, Halassa MM. (2014) “Design and fabrication of ultralight weight, adjustable multi-electrode probes for electrophysiological recordings in mice.” J Vis Exp. (91):e516

Astori S, Wimmer RD, Lüthi A. (2013) “Manipulating sleep spindles – Expanding views on sleep, memory and disease.” Trends Neurosci, 36(12):738-48

Wimmer RD, Astori S, Bond C, Rovó Z, Chatton J-Y, Adelman JP, Franken P, Lüthi A. (2012) “Sustaining sleep spindles through enhanced SK2 channel activity consolidates sleep and elevates arousal threshold.” J Neurosci, 32(40):13917-28.

Astori S, Wimmer RD, Prosser HM, Corti C, Corsi M, Liaudet N, Volterra A, Franken P, Adelman JP, Lüthi A. (2011) “The CaV3.3 calcium channel is the major sleep spindle pacemaker in thalamus.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 108(33):13823-8.

Reyes-Castro LA, Rodriguez JS, Rodríguez-González GL, Wimmer RD, McDonald TJ, Larrea F, Nathanielsz PW, Zambrano E. “Pre- and/or postnatal protein restriction in rats impairs learning and motivation in male offspring.” (2011) Int J Dev Neurosci. 29(2):177-82.

Cerbulo-Vazquez A, Zavala M, Perez-Palacios GA, Jenkins SL, Giavedoni LD, Hodara VL, Romero R, Wimmer RD, Irles C, Nathanielsz PW. (2010) “Baboon fetal arterial endothelial cells are more responsive to challenge by tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) than baboon fetal umbilical vein endothelial cells.” Atherosclerosis. 212(2):701-3.

* Authors contributed equally

Trainees

Ian Schmitt

Ian Schmitt

Postdoctoral Fellow, NARSAD Young Investigator

Ian completed his PhD in the laboratory of Professor Philip G. Haydon where he performed field recordings and amperometric biosensor based measurements in acute slices. During his graduate studies, Ian employed these techniques to establish that astrocytic glia release adenosine in response to wakefulness and that regulation of synaptic transmission by this molecule may affect memory function by modulating synaptic transmission and plasticity within the hippocampus.
Publications

Schmitt, LI. Sims, RE., Dale, N., Haydon, PG. (2012). Wakefulness Affects Synaptic and Network Activity by Increasing Extracellular Astrocyte-Derived Adenosine. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(13), 4417-4425. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5689-11.2012. PMID:   22457491

Hines, DJ. Schmitt, LI., Hines R.M. Moss, SJ. Haydon, PG. (2013). Antidepressant Effects of Sleep Deprivation Require Astrocyte-Dependent Adenosine Mediated Signaling.  Translational Psychiatry. 3:e212. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.136. PMID:   23321809

Clasadonte, J*. McIver, SR*. Schmitt, LI*. (2013) Chronic Sleep Restriction Disrupts Sleep Homeostasis and Behavioral Sensitivity to Alcohol by Reducing the Extracellular Accumulation of Adenosine. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(5): 1879-1891. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2870-12.2014. PMID: 24478367

Min D. Tang-Schomer, James White, Lee W. Tien, L. Ian Schmitt, Thomas Valentin, Daniel Graziano, Amy Hopkins, Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Philip G. Haydon, and David L. Kaplan. (In Press) Bioengineered functional brain-like cortical tissue. PNAS.

 Miho Nakajima

Miho Nakajima

Postdoctoral Fellow, JSPS Fellow

Miho completed her PhD in the laboratory of Professor Nathaniel Heintz at the Rockefeller University, where she performed gene/functional profiling of specific cortical interneuron cell types using BAC transgenesis method. During her graduate studies, Miho employed these techniques and discovered a new class of cortical interneuron subtype which has oxytocin/brain state dependent function during female socio-sexual behavior. Contact Miho Here.
Publications

Nakajima M, Gorlich A, and Heintz N (2014) “Oxytocin Modulates Female Sociosexual Behavior through a specific Class of Prefrontal Cortical Interneurons”, Cell, 159, (2): 295-305

Dougherty JD, Schmidt EF, Nakajima M, and Heintz N (2010) “Analytical approaches to RNA profiling data for the identification of genes enriched in specific cells.” Nucleic Acids Research, 38(13):4218-30

Nakatani H, Serizawa S, Nakajima M, Imai T, and Sakano H (2003) “Developmental elimination of ectopic projection sites for the transgenic OR gene that has lost zone specificity in the olfactory epithelium.”European Journal of Neuroscience, 18(9):2425-32

Miyoshi G., Young A., Petros T., Karayannis T., McKenzie Chang M., Lavado A., Iwano T., Nakajima M., Taniguchi H., Huang ZJ., Heintz N., Oliver G., Matsuzaki F., Machold RP., Fishell G., Prox1 regulates the subtype-specific development of caudal ganglionic eminence-derived GABAergic cortical interneurons. J Neurosci., 35(37):12869-89 (2015) DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1164-15.2015

Wimmer, R.D.*, Schmitt, L.I.*, Davidson, T.J., Nakajima, M., Deisseroth, K., Halassa, M.M., Thalamic control of sensory selection in divided attention. Nature, 526: 705–709 (2015), DOI: 10.1038/nature15398.

Alireza Hashemi

Alireza Hashemi

Postdoctoral Fellow

Alireza was raised in Montreal and obtained his PhD in visual neuroscience with Erik Cook at McGill University. There he studied the relationship between population activity in area MT and the perception of motion. He is interested in how the brain makes use of contextual information to guide perceptual decision-making. Recently he has focused his attention on studying interactions between thalamic structures and PFC to elucidate the circuit mechanisms and computations underlying decision-making under uncertainty.
Tingting Zhou

Tingting Zhou

Postdoctoral Fellow

Tingting Zhou completed her PhD in the laboratory of Professor Hailan Hu, where she investigated neural circuit mechanism underlying social dominance determination with behavioral analysis, in vivo electrical-physiological recording, pharmaco-genetical and optogenetical techniques. During her graduate studies, she found that prefrontal cortex determines social dominance in an instant manner by increasing effortful behavior state during social competition and the winning history remodels thalamo-prefrontal connection to reinforce the social dominance.
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Driven by the interest in further understanding of prefrontal cortex and thalamus interaction in cognition control, especially in dissecting dysfunction of this circuit in disease models, now Tingting is spearheading effort in studying prefrontal and thalamus circuitry dysfunction in mediating cognitive defect in schizophrenia mouse model with co-mentoring of Dr. Guoping Feng and Dr. Micheal Halassa.

Publications

Zhou TT, Zhu H, Fan ZX, Wang F, Chen Y, Liang HX, Yang ZF, Zhang L, Lin LN, Zhan Y, Wang Z, Hu H* (2017) History of winning remodels thalamo-PFC circuit to reinforce social dominance. Science. 357: 162-168.
Zhou TT, Sandi C*, Hu H* (2018) Advances in understanding neural mechanisms of social dominance. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 49:99-107.
Xiu JB, Zhang Q, Zhou T, Zhou TT, Hu H*. Visualizing an emotional valence map in the limbic forebrain by TAI-FISH. Nature Neuroscience. 17: 1552-1559. (2014) (Selected by Faculty 1000)

Arghya Mukherjee

Arghya Mukherjee

Postdoctoral Fellow

Arghya did his graduate studies with Prof. Pico Caroni at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Switzerland. He studied the circuit mechanisms of rule learning in the mouse prefrontal cortex and their dysfunction in Schizophrenia. He discovered that the antagonistic functions of the Prelimbic and Infralimbic subdivisions of the PFC is integrated through direct reciprocal connectivity, thus providing a circuit basis of PFC driven flexibility in learning. He also devised a novel therapeutic strategy for long term rescue of cognitive deficits in a mouse model of Schizophrenia which is currently under attempts to be translated to human patients. Currently he is exploring the neural circuitry and cognitive algorithms that underlie value based decision making using multi-electrode recordings, computational modelling and connectomics.
Michael Lohse

Michael Lohse

Postdoctoral Fellow

Michael completed his PhD in Professor Andrew Kings lab at University of Oxford. There he studied how sensory context is implemented in mouse auditory subcortical circuits. His PhD work demonstrated that somatosensation controls the excitability of the auditory thalamus via direct and indirect projections from primary somatosensory cortex. He also showed that auditory contrast gain control is largely implemented in the auditory midbrain and thalamus independent of auditory cortical input.
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Publications

Lohse, M., Bajo, V.M., King, A.J., Willmore, B.D.B. (Under review) Auditory contrast gain control predicts perceptual performance and is not dependent on cortical activity

Lohse, M., Cooper, M., Sader, E.N., Langfelder, A., Kahn, M.C., Baxter, J., Bartram., L., Phillips, J.W., Upton, A.L., Mann, E.O. (Under review). Motor cortex dynamically modulates thalamo-cortical somatosensory processing.

Lohse, M., Bajo, V., King, A.J. (2018) Development, Organization and Plasticity of Auditory Circuits: Lessons from a Cherished Colleague. European Journal of Neuroscience

Lohse, M., Overgaard, M. (2017) Emotional priming depends on the degree of conscious experience. Neuropsychologia – Special issue: Tribute to Lawrence Weiskrantz

Vasquez-Lopez, S., Weissenberger, Y., Lohse, M., Keating, P., King, A., Dahmen, J. (2017)  Thalamic input to auditory cortex is locally heterogeneous but globally tonotopic. eLife

Furl. N., Lohse, M., Pizzorni-Farrarese, F. (2017) Low-frequency oscillations employ a general coding of the spatio-temporal similarity of dynamic faces.NeuroImage

Lohse, M., Garrido, L., Dolan, R., Driver, J., Duchaine, B., Furl, N. (2016) Effective Connectivity from Early Visual Cortex to Posterior Occipito-temporal Face Areas Supports Face Selectivity and Predicts Developmental Prosopagnosia. Journal of Neuroscience

Milan Halgren

Milan Halgren

Graduate Student

Milan is a graduate student in the Brain & Cognitive Sciences department. Before coming to MIT, he worked with Prof. Sydney Cash at Massachusetts General Hospital to make intracranial recordings in epilepsy patients. He utilized laminar microelectrode recordings in humans to show that most brain rhythms (and by extension the LFP/EEG) reflect currents in superficial cortical layers. Currently, he’s studying how thalamocortical circuits generate sleep dynamics such as slow-waves, spindles and dreams.
Suzannah Fraker

Suzannah Fraker

Graduate Student

Suzannah is a graduate student in the Physics department. Before coming to MIT, she worked at Google as a software engineer in search infrastructure. Currently, she is creating computational models to investigate how distributed neuronal circuits give rise to cognitive control and flexibility.

Staff

Navdeep Bajwa

Navdeep Bajwa

Lab Technician

Melissa Garcia

Melissa Garcia

Lab Technician

Valerie Hoke

Valerie Hoke

Lab Manager

Valerie worked in the Fitzpatrick lab at Max Planck Florida Institute, her research focused on the contribution of cortical neuronal activity to visually guided behavior in the tree shrew. She has a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Florida State University.

 

Alumni

Stefan Oline
Lab manager: 2016-2018
Next position: Lab manager, Princeton University

Danny Liang
Undergraduate summer intern: 2014, 2015
Next position: Medical student University of Toronto

Anmolpreet Kandola
High school summer intern: 2015
Next position: Undergraduate student at Columbia University

Jaison Jain
High school summer intern: 2015
Next position: Undergraduate student at Brown University

Gabriel Levine
Undergraduate summer intern: 2015
Next position: Undergraduate student at University of Chicago

Jie-Yoon Yang
Research Assistant: 2014-2015
Next position: graduate student at Caltech

Philip Brunetti
Research assistant: 2012-2014
Next position: Medical student at Louisiana State University

Justin Kirk
Research Assistant: 2016, 2017
Next position: Skillmill NYC

Giulio Spagnol
Visiting Student: 2017
Next position: Graduate student at Oxford University

Michael Happ
Research Assistant: 2017
Next position: Graduate student at MIT

Nora Hadinger
Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow: 2017
Next position: Back to Acsady lab at the Hungarian Academy of Science

Sima Mofakham
Postdoctoral Fellow: 2016-2017
Next position: Research Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University

Rajeev Rikhye
Postdoctoral fellow: 2017-2018
Next position: AI researcher at Vicarious AI

Jorge Yanar
Post-bac Scholar
Next position: Graduate Student, Princeton University