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Huizhong W. Tao

Associate Professor
Cell & Neurobiology
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Keck School of Medicine of USC
PIBBS Mentor

Huizhong W. Tao

Research Topics

  • Cellular neurobiology
  • Developmental neurobiology
  • Sensory neurobiology
  • Central visual processing

Research Images

neurons expressing red fluorescence protein in the optic tectum of zebrafish

Research Overview

We are interested in the architecture of visual cortical circuits. To dissect the circuits that consist of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, we will apply in vivo electrophysiology, in particular two-photon imaging guided recording, to target different types of neurons in rodent visual cortex. From the response properties of individual neurons and the pattern of synaptic inputs to these neurons, we will be able to deduce the connectivity rules governing the construction of cortical circuits. In addition, we will gain insights into how diverse visual processing functions are achieved by the cortical circuits.

We are also interested in how functional visual circuits are established during development. The development of visual system not only depends on molecular and genetic programs, but also can be profoundly influenced by the pattern of neural activities along the visual pathways. Early synaptic connections in the developing brain can undergo substantial remodeling in response to patterned electrical activity of neurons. We will examine how neural activity of various patterns leads to modulations of synaptic connections and shapes the formation of visual circuits. Such studies will provide insights into how abnormal visual experience in early life, such as in the condition of strabismus and visual deprivation, can lead to abnormal wiring in the brain, and how we can correct it. Using animal models such as zebrafish and mouse where genetic manipulation of gene functions is available, we will also address how the development of visual circuits is altered under disease conditions.

Contact Information

Mailing Address USC Keck School of Medicine
1501 San Pablo Street, ZNI 339
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Office Location ZNI 339
Office Phone (323) 442-2426
Lab Location ZNI 319
Lab Phone (323) 442-4352
Fax (323) 442-2448
Office Location ZNI 339


  • B.S. Biochemistry - Beijing University, China
  • Ph.D. Neurobiology - University of California at San Diego
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship:
  • University of California at Berkeley

Selected Publications

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  • Ibrahim LA, Mesik L, Ji XY, Fang Q, Li HF, Li YT, Zingg B, Zhang LI, Tao HW. (2016) 
    Cross-Modality Sharpening of Visual Cortical Processing through Layer-1-Mediated Inhibition and Disinhibition. Neuron. 89(5):1031-45.
  • Liang, F., Xiong, X.R., Zingg, B., Ji, X.Y., Zhang, L.I., Tao, H.W.  (2015) 
    Sensory cortical control of a visually induced arrest behavior via corticotectal projections. 
    Neuron 86:755-767.
  • Zhou, M., Liang, F., Li, L., Xiong, X.R., Li, H., Xiao, Z., Tao, H.W.*, Zhang, L.I.* (2014) 
    Scaling down of balanced excitation and inhibition by active behavioral states in auditory cortex. 
     Nat. Neurosci. 17:841-850.  
  • Li YT, Ibrahim LA, Liu BH, Zhang LI, Tao HW. (2013) 
    Linear transformation of thalamocortical input by intracortical excitation. 
    Nat Neurosci. 16:1324-1330.
  • Ma WP, Li YT, Tao HW. (2013) 
    Downregulation of cortical inhibition mediates ocular dominance plasticity during the critical period.  
    J Neurosci. 33:11276-11280.
  • Li YT, Ma WP, Li LY, Ibrahim LA, Wang SZ, Tao HW. (2012) 
    Broadening of inhibitory tuning underlies contrast-dependent sharpening of orientation selectivity in mouse visual cortex. 
    J Neurosci. 32:16466-16477.
    PubMed Link
  • Li, Y.T., Ma, W.P., Pan, C.J., Zhang, L.I. and Tao, H.W. (2012) 
    Broadening of cortical inhibition mediates developmental sharpening of orientation selectivity.
     J. Neurosci. 32: 3981-3991.
  • Liu, B.H., Li, Y.T., Ma, W.P., Pan, C.J., Zhang, L.I., Tao, H.W. (2011) 
    Broad inhibition sharpens orientation selectivity by expanding input dynamic range in mouse simple cells. 
    Neuron 71:542-54.
    PubMed Link
  • Zhang, M., Liu, Y., Wang, S.Z., Zhong, W., Liu, B.H., Tao, H.W. (2011)  
    Functional elimination of excitatory feedforward inputs underlies developmental refinement of visual receptive fields in zebrafish.  
    J. Neurosci. 31: 5460-5469.
  • Liu, B.H., Li, P., Sun, Y.J., Li, Y.T., Zhang, L.I. and Tao, H.W. (2010)
    Intervening inhibition underlies simple-cell receptive field structure in visual cortex.  
    Nat Neurosci. 13:89-96. Epub 2009 Nov 29.
    PubMed Link