Van Horn-2

Illustration showing how white matter fiber tracts are distorted in the presence of intracerebral hemorrhage. (Van Horn Lab)

Van Horn-1

Illustration of various tissue types of the human head and brain including skin, skull, grey matter, white matter, in addition to hemorrhage and edema associated with traumatic brain injury. (Van Horn Lab)


Transgene labeling of brainstem autonomic neurons on the fetal mouse. (Levitt Lab)


Localization of synaptogenesis transcripts in developing neurons. (Levitt Lab)

Zingg (3)

Section through mouse brain showing cell bodies and axons associated with neural tracer injections in various parts of the brain. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Zingg (2)

Fluorescently labeled thalamic (red) and brainstem (green) projecting neurons in mouse auditory cortex. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Shih Lab

Our recent publication shows that MAO A mediates prostate tumorigenesis and cancer. (Shih Lab)

Student conducting research in Dr. Dion Dickman's Lab

Dickman Lab

A computer simulation displaying a map of sensory space within the brain. While maps of sensory space are ubiquitous in the brain, computer simulations can be used to study the map formation problem. In the figure, color indicates the orientation turning preference of each neuron; gray lines highlight the distortion between the physical neuron locations of the brain surface and the location of the cell’s preferred stimulus in the visual field (colored dot). Figure provided by Rishabh Jain. (Mel Lab)

A perfect image of a drosophila brain staining. Image provided by Hui Yang. (Dickman Lab)


Students and faculty in the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program come from a variety of academic backgrounds to study questions spanning the entire spectrum of modern neuroscience research. Key questions include:

  • how do molecules work together in time and space to build functioning nerve cells?
  • how do individual neurons and their interconnections lead to the emergent properties of neural circuits?
  • how do the information processing functions of neural circuits lead to complex behaviors, memories, emotions, and thought?

Departing from the traditional focus on individual disciplines, USC Neuroscience is characterized by collaborative interactions between faculty and students who have undergraduate or graduate degrees in biology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, behavior, cell biology, genetics and other disciplines.  They work at many different levels of analysis, including research on cell-molecular neurobiology, systems-level analysis of normal and disrupted neural circuits due to disease, neural engineering, and cognitive and computational neuroscience.

When combined with a varied curriculum, weekly seminars, an annual graduate student symposium, and an extremely active neuroscience graduate student forum, the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program provides a highly supportive, research-intensive training experience designed to prepare students for a variety of successful careers.

January 8, 2015

University Professor Richard Thompson remembered by the Association for Psychological Science

Remembering Richard F. Thompson

September 6, 1930 – September 16, 2014

The world lost a neuroscience pioneer in September 2014 with the passing of APS Past President Richard F. Thompson. Widely regarded as a leading authority in his field, Dick focused his research on the broad field of behavioral neuroscience with a focus on the neurobiological substrates of learning and memory. He was the first neuroscientist to identify and map the neural circuits responsible for classical conditioning.

Dick was Keck Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California and served as Director of the USC Neuroscience Program from 1989 to 2001. Subsequently, he served as senior scientific advisor to the USC Neuroscience Research Institute. He also held appointments as professor of neurology, School of Medicine, and senior research associate, School of Gerontology.

Before joining USC, Dick was a professor of human biology and psychology at Stanford University, where he chaired the Human Biology Program from 1980 to 1985. Previously, he served as professor of psychobiology in the University of California, Irvine, School of Biological Sciences; professor of psychology at Harvard University; and professor of medical psychology and psychiatry at the University of Oregon Medical School. He earned his PhD in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he conducted his postdoctoral research in the neurophysiology laboratory. He also did postdoctoral work in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Dick did groundbreaking work that linked neural plasticity with behavioral plasticity. For example, using a spinal cord preparation while at UC Irvine, he studied and defined the processes of habituation and sensitization. At UC Irvine, he also began a long series of studies built on Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory. Dick used the classically conditioned nictitating membrane/eyelid response model on rabbits to initially advance our understanding of hippocampal function during associative learning. But arguably his most famous work came in 1982 when he was at Stanford. There, he used the rabbit preparation to map the brain substrates of classical eye-blink conditioning. He made the seminal discovery that populations of neurons in the cerebellum were responsible for the acquisition and retention of the classical conditioning of discrete motor responses. This work was controversial, to say the least, as the cerebellum had long been considered strictly a motor region of the brain and not capable of demonstrating plasticity.

Dick continued his work at USC, where he was instrumental in bringing together many leading neuroscientists to form the nation’s first interdisciplinary neuroscience program. His research showed how the brain saves a memory by bolstering the connection between neurons. He also explored the effects of behavioral stress, estrogen, and aging on learning.
Dick published 450 research papers, served as editor of three journals, and authored several books — including the classic Foundations of Physiological Psychology (1967), which revolutionized the way that behavioral neuroscience was presented and learned.

He is also remembered as a stellar mentor, guiding the careers of many students and postdocs who are now leaders in the field of behavioral neuroscience. I was one of the beneficiaries of his skill as a mentor while I was a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory at Stanford from 1983 to 1987. Perhaps above everything else, Dick taught me how to ask the important questions and how to design clever experiments to seek answers to those questions. He also instilled in me a deep passion for discovery and taught me how to stand strong when others did not agree with or did not want to agree with the findings and direction of the research. After all, as Dick was fond of saying, “strong data are much better to have than merely a strong opinion.” On a personal note, Dick and I maintained very regular contact after I left his laboratory and began my own independent career at Indiana University. We remained collaborators over the years. He was a mentor for life. He nurtured my career; he was always there when I needed him for professional and personal advice; and he always cared about how my family was doing. In hindsight, Dick Thompson was more than a mentor: He was a dear friend. Psychological science and neuroscience have lost a giant.

What follows are remembrances from some of those whose lives Dick touched.


-Joseph E. Steinmetz
The Ohio State University

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August 18, 2014

Eisenberg Lab: Medical Team performs auditory brainstem implant surgery on child.

A Los Angeles team of scientists and surgeons from Keck Medicine of USC, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) reported that sound registered in the brain of a deaf Canadian boyfor the first time after doctors activated a hearing device that had been surgically implanted in his brainstem.

Auguste Majkowski, 3, is the first child in the United States to undergo an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) surgery in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved trial supported by a National Institutes of Health clinical trial grant. On June 12, six weeks after surgery at CHLA, the device was activated with positive results at the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery clinic at Keck Medicine of USC.“It was magical,” said Sophie Gareau, the child’s mother. “He’s a tough kid.”


Breaking the ‘sound barrier’

The surgery, device activation and future behavioral study are part of a five-year clinical trial in which 10 devices will be implanted in deaf children under the age of 5 and studied over the course of three years. The Los Angeles study, co-led by audiologist Laurie Eisenberg and surgeon Eric Wilkinson is the only in the United States to be supported by the NIH.

“Our Los Angeles-based team has been at the forefront of ABI technology development since it came into use in the late 1970s for adults, so it is especially gratifying to help break the ‘sound barrier’ once again; this time, for children who previously could not hear,” said Eisenberg, a professor of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Surgeons outside the United States have been doing ABI surgeries in children for 10 years, but there has never been a formal safety or feasibility study under regulatory oversight. Our team is writing the manuals for all the procedures for this technology, and we have a top-notch multidisciplinary team in place to carry out the research.”

The surgical team that performed the operation at CHLA included Wilkinson, HMRI research scientist and neurotologist at the House Clinic; HMRI research scientist and House Clinic neurosurgeon Marc Schwartz and pediatric neurosurgeon Mark Krieger of Division of Neurosurgery at CHLA. Attending the surgery was Vittorio Colletti of the University of Verona Hospital in Italy, who has performed the most ABI surgeries on children overseas and is a collaborator on the study.

The study’s goal is to establish safety and efficacy protocols for the surgery and subsequent behavioral mapping procedures that doctors in the United States can then later use once the surgery is approved for children in the United States.

“Hundreds of children in the U.S. can benefit from ABI surgery,” said Krieger, who also is associate professor of clinical neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. “These children would otherwise never hear or develop verbal speech in their lives.”

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