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Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-Wide Dynamics

NOMIS Project 2017

— 2022

Light is a uniquely well-suited tool for probing living systems, which tolerate light as a natural part of the environment. Light can also be rapidly delivered and/or detected by experimentalists over a range of colors and powers, and in neuroscience can be used to both control (play-in) and detect (readout) neuronal activity patterns at the cellular level that give rise to behavior.

The Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-Wide Dynamics projects employed light to detect and understand brain states ― natural phenomena involving altered activity of brain cells that make the same experience mean completely different things to two different individuals, or even to the same individual at two different times. Such phenomena likely underlie not only personality differences but also neuropsychiatric disease states. However, it had been impossible to determine the nature of these states at the cellular level due to the immense complexity of brain structure and function.

To aid in this mission, the research team developed several methods, under conditions in which active neurons show fluorescence changes, to capture that light in real time across the brain to determine the natural activity patterns that mediate brain function and behavior. Accordingly, these new technologies were applied to allow the detailed identification of brain states: at cellular-resolution while maintaining a global, brain-wide perspective. Outcomes enabled a deeper understanding of ourselves, our similarities, our differences and our illnesses, at the most fundamental of levels.


NOMIS Researcher(s)

D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Stanford Medicine

Project News

NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth and colleagues have found that when they increased heart rates in mice, the animals showed more anxious behavior. Their research was published in Nature. Using pulses […]

NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth has been awarded the 2023 Japan Prize in the field of life sciences. The Japan Prize Foundation announced the winners of the 2023 Japan Prize on […]

Karl Deisseroth has been awarded the 2018 Kyoto Prize in the category of Advanced Technology for the discovery of optogenetics and development of causal systems neuroscience. He developed an biological […]

Karl Deisseroth, Tony Wyss-Coray and Svante Pääbo Recognizing not only scientific excellence, but also celebrating researchers who push for unconventional paths and show exceptional engagement in insight-driven research and collaboration, […]


Project Insights

Abstract: Emotional states influence bodily physiology, as exemplified in the top-down process by which anxiety causes faster beating of the heart1–3. However, whether an increased heart rate might itself induce anxiety or fear responses is unclear3–8. Physiological theories of emotion, proposed over a century ago, have considered that in general, there
Abstract: Learning has been associated with modifications of synaptic and circuit properties, but the precise changes storing information in mammals have remained largely unclear. We combined genetically targeted voltage imaging with targeted optogenetic activation and silencing of pre- and post-synaptic neurons to study the mechanisms underlying hippocampal behavioral timescale plasticity. In

We estimate that 208,000 deep brain stimulation (DBS) devices have been implanted to address neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders worldwide. DBS Think Tank presenters pooled data and determined that DBS expanded […]


Channelrhodopsins are light-gated ion channels that, via regulation of flagellar function, enable single-celled motile algae to seek ambient light conditions suitable for photosynthesis and survival. These plant behavioral responses were […]