Major Research Accomplishments


  • H. Robert Horvitz identifies a new class of serotonin receptor that works by conducting chloride ions. Knowledge may lead to the identification of new drug targets for serotonin, which regulates depression, appetite, sleep. More>>


  • Nancy Kanwisher describes a human brain area that responds specifically to seeing body parts. More>>
  • Emilio Bizzi shows by recording from single neurons that the primary motor cortex reorganizes itself during learning of a new motor task. More>>


  • Tomaso Poggio and colleagues present a computer method for simulating video speech animation. The algorithm learns from video examples of real speech to generate artificial ‘lip sync’ movements corresponding to any desired utterance. More>>


  • Nancy Kanwisher and Rebecca Saxe describe a brain region that is activated specifically by thinking about another person’s thoughts. This region is now considered a strong candidate for involvement in autism. More>>
  • Ann Graybiel’s lab discovers a pattern of activity in prefrontal cortex that marks the completion of a task sequence. This activity may reflect a neural system for ‘packaging’ a series of movements into larger chunks. More>>


  • Tomaso Poggio and colleagues describe foundational results in learning theory which characterize conditions for a computational learning algorithm to be predictive. More>>


  • H. Robert Horvitz, in collaboration with colleagues at the Broad Institute, shows that micro-RNAs can be used to classify human cancers, suggesting a new approach to cancer diagnostics. More>>
  • Jim DiCarlo, Tomaso Poggio, and colleagues show that relatively small numbers of neurons within the inferotemporal visual cortex (IT), contain information that could account for the brain’s ability to identify and classify large numbers visual objects. More>>
  • Ann Graybiel and colleagues find that striatal neurons change their activity patterns as habitual behaviors are learned and unlearned. More>>


  • Tomaso Poggio and colleagues describe a computer-based system for rapid object recognition whose design is based on the mammalian visual system and whose performance approaches that of human observers. More>>
  • Nancy Kanwisher and colleagues demonstrate the ability of culture to shape brain function, by identifying a brain region that responds to written words specifically in the subject’s native language. More>>
  • Chris Moore, in collaboration with colleagues at MGH, shows that brain potentials recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG) can be used to predict human touch sensitivity, and presents a detailed biophysical model to explain the neural origins of this complex signal. More>>


  • John Gabrieli, in collaboration with colleagues at Harvard Medical School, demonstrates that people with schizophrenia are impaired in their ability to switch off brain regions associated with self-reflection. More>>
  • Michale Fee and colleagues identify a specialized brain region in songbirds that is responsible for the ’babbling’ that precedes mature song production. The work has general implications for understanding how the brain produces variable activity required for trial-and-error learning. More>>
  • In a separate study, Fee’s team identifies a brain region that controls the speed of singing in birds. By cooling or warming this region, the experimenters could manipulate the speed of the song. This approach is expected to be generally applicable to the discovery of brain regions that control the timing of behavioral sequences. More>>
  • Jim DiCarlo reports that unsupervised neuronal learning during natural visual exploration could account for the brain’s ability to recognize a visual object independent of its position within the field of view. More>>


  • Ed Boyden, in collaboration with Robert Desimone and Ann Graybiel, provides the first demonstration of optogenetics in primates. This technique allows the activity of the brain to be controlled by light, and its use in primates represents an essential step on the road to human therapeutic applications. More>>
  • Chris Moore, Li-Huei Tsai and their colleagues show in mice that optogenetics can be used to induce gamma oscillations, high frequency brain waves that are associated with perception and which are disrupted in schizophrenia. More>>
  • Robert Desimone provides evidence that synchronization of high-speed oscillations across brain regions may underlie the ability to focus attention on a stimulus of interest. More>>
  • H. Robert Horvitz identifies a new type of dopamine receptor in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans; if similar genes exist in humans they may be important targets for psychiatric drugs. More>>
  • Michale Fee and colleagues show that motor learning in songbirds is a two-step process, in which short-term improvements in performance guide the formation of more permanent changes in the motor cortex. The work sheds light on the basic mechanisms by which animals learn motor and possibly cognitive skills. More>>
  • Emilio Bizzi, along with clinical colleagues in Venice, Italy, shows that motor impairments in cortical stroke patients can be understood as impairments in specific combinations of muscle activity, known as synergies. The results suggest new approaches to rehabilitation in stroke patients. More>>
  • Ann Graybiel and colleagues identify a population of neurons in the primate brain that keep track of time with extreme precision. More>>


  • Ed Boyden describes a new class of optogenetic silencers, light-sensitive proteins that can be used to suppress neural activity. More>>
  • Nancy Kanwisher, in collaboration with colleagues in China, demonstrates that human face recognition ability is strongly influenced by heredity. More>>
  • Alan Jasanoff and colleagues at MIT and Caltech describe a new type of genetically encoded MRI sensor, developed through directed protein evolution, which can detect dopamine release in the living brain. More>>
  • Michale Fee’s group showed that the timing of bird song is controlled by a "cascade" of neural activity. This may be a general mechanism for controlling complex action sequences with precise timing. More >>
  • John Gabrieli, in collaboration with colleagues at Stanford, identified patterns of brain activity and morphology in children with dyslexia that can predict how well the children’s reading skills will improve in subsequent years. More >>


  • Feng Zhang, along with colleagues at Harvard, described a method for producing customized DNA-binding proteins that can be targeted to any DNA sequence. The technology is expected to have many applications in biomedical research. More>>
  • Guoping Feng’s lab described a mouse model of autism based on mutations in the synaptic protein shank3, which is also implicated in human autism. More >>
  • Ed Boyden, along with colleagues at University of Southern California, showed that gene therapy with a light-sensitive protein can promote recovery of visual function in a mouse model of retinal blindness. More>>
  • John Gabrieli’s group showed that people with dyslexia have difficulty in recognizing individual voices. The findings suggest that dyslexia may be the result of impaired phonological processing, the ability to associate sounds with meanings. More >>
  • Nancy Kanwisher’s group identified brain regions in individual subjects that are specifically involved in language. They showed that these regions are not activated by other cognitive functions that have been previously proposed to overlap with language. More>>
  • Yingxi Lin and colleagues identified a gene that controls the brain’s response to electrical activity, and which is required for the retention of new memories. More>>


  • Robert Horvitz and colleagues identify the molecular components of a pathway implicated in ischemic stroke and reperfusion injury. More>>
  • Ed Boyden and collaborators develop a robot that can automatically perform patch-clamp recordings from neurons. More>>
  • John Gabrieli uses fMRI to study patients undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder and to predict which patients will respond best to treatment. More>>
  • Guoping Feng and colleagues develop a new method to map activity of neural circuits based on genetically-encoded calcium reporters. More>>
  • Ann Graybiel’s lab uses optogenetics to identify a brain region that can control the behavioral switch between new and old habits. More>>


    • Feng Zhang and colleagues develop a new and efficient method to edit genomic DNA based on the CRISPR bacterial nuclease system. More>>
    • Feng Zhang continues to develop the CRISPR method for genome editing, improving its accuracy, applying it to make transgenic mice with multiple mutations, and showing that it can be used for genome-wide functional screens.
    • John Gabrieli's lab identifies brain differences in preschool children at risk for dyslexia.  More>>
    • Nancy Kanwisher and colleagues identify a network of brain regions that are activated when subjects perform any difficult mental task.  More>>
    • John Gabrieli and colleagues find that schools that raise test scores do not necessarily increase cognitive skills that are typically associated with achievement in later life. More>>


      • Feng Zhang and collaborators in Tokyo report the structure of the cas9 complex that is at the heart of the CRISPR genome-editing technology. More>>
      • Bob Desimone’s lab identifies a brain circuit that is key to shifting our focus from one object to another. More >>
      • Alan Jasanoff and colleagues establish a technique that allows neuroscientists to map neural activity with molecular precision. More >>
      • John Gabrieli and colleagues report that brain scans differentiate adults who have recovered from childhood ADHD and those whose difficulties linger. More >>
      • Ed Boyden and colleagues develop the first light-sensitive molecule that enables neurons to be silenced non-invasively, using a light source outside the skull. More >>
      • Feng Zhang, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Tokyo, described a new application of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, in which the Cas9 protein is engineered to switch genes on rather than off.   In a proof-of-concept experiment the authors use this this method to screen for genes that may cause resistance to chemotherapy drugs in cancer cells. More >>


      • MIT researchers led by Ed Boyden have invented a new way to visualize the nanoscale structure of the brain and other tissues. Unlike traditional microscopy, which involves magnifying the image, the new method works by physically enlarging the specimen itself, in some cases more than five times in each dimension. More>>
      • John Gabrieli and colleagues showed that brain structure in adolescents is associated with income and with academic achievement measured on standardized tests. More>>
      • Ann Graybiel’s lab identified a brain circuit that appears to underlie decision-making in situation where costs must be weighed against benefits. More>>
      • Feng Zhang and colleagues described a new type of CRISPR system, based on the RNA-guided DNA endonuclease Cpf1, which has several potential advantages over the previously described CRISPR-Cas9 system. More>>


      • Researchers in Nancy Kanwisher’s lab find a link between a behavioral symptom of autism and reduced activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, whose job is to dampen neuron excitation. More>>
      • A team led by Gloria Choi identifies a mechanism by which maternal inflammation can disrupt brain development--a possible explanation for the link between infection during pregnancy and the development of neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism or schizophrenia. More>>
      • Guoping Feng and colleagues show in a mouse genetic model that many of the behavioral signs of autism can be reversed by restoring the missing gene in adulthood, suggesting that it may eventually be possible to achieve a similar result in humans. More>>
      • Guoping Feng and collaborators at NYU identify the thalamic reticular nucleus as a potential target for the treatment of attention deficit disorder. More>>
      • Feng Zhang and colleagues identify a programmable CRISPR enzyme, termed C2c2, that targets RNA rather than DNA. More>>
      • Alan Jasanoff’s lab describes a new MRI-based technology for imaging serotonin reuptake in the living brain.  The method may yield new insights into the actions of antidepressants such as Prozac, which target serotonin reuptake. More>>
      • John Gabrieli and colleagues show that people with dyslexia have a deficit in rapid neural adaptation to a wide range of stimuli, suggesting a possible neural basis for the disorder. More>>


      • Rebecca Saxe’s lab scans the brains of young babies with unprecedented detail, revealing the surprisingly similar organization of infant and adult brain. More>>

      Image: Justin Knight Photography