Centers & Labs

RIKEN Brain Science Institute

Laboratory for Neural Circuitry of Memory

Laboratory Head: Joshua Johansen (Ph.D.)
Joshua  Johansen(Ph.D.)

Our experiences in the world produce physical changes in the brain and as a result of these changes memories are formed. However, in our daily lives we are constantly barraged by sensory information, most of which we do not remember. What tells the brain to store some experiences as memories while others are forgotten? Answering this question is a central goal of our laboratory.
Pleasurable and aversive experiences are powerful triggers for memory storage, telling our brain when an experience should be stored and remembered. To accomplish this task, aversive and pleasurable encounters activate neural 'teaching signal' circuits which can trigger brain alterations resulting in memory formation. Relative to our understanding of sensory and motor circuits, we understand very little about the brain circuits and mechanisms which translate aversive experiences into neural teaching signals.
Though we are generally interested in the neural circuit mechanisms of associative learning and memory, our laboratory focuses on the study of teaching signals by examining the neural processes by which aversive experiences trigger behavioral fear conditioning. We study teaching signals using fear conditioning, a powerful model for studying behavioral memory formation. We take advantage of a multi-disciplinary approach, employing state of the art optogenetic techniques to causally manipulate teaching signal circuits and in-vivo electrophysiological methods to examine the computations performed by neurons in these circuits during behavioral learning. Our goals are to define the circuits that trigger aversive memory formation and elucidate the mechanisms by which aversive experiences trigger neural plasticity in memory storage areas. In addition, we aim to determine the computations performed by neurons in different parts of these circuits and establish how circuit processes give rise to these neural computations during behavioral learning and memory. Using this strategy we ultimately seek to discover general principles of neural circuit function, neural coding and plasticity as they relate to adaptive behavior.

Research Subjects

  • Neural circuits of aversive teaching signals
  • Neural coding of aversive teaching signals
  • Mechanisms of neural plasticity mediating fear memory formation
  • Neural mechanisms of causal attribution in learning

Selected Publications

  1. Johansen, J.P., Diaz-Mataix, L., Hamanaka, H. Ozawa, T., Ycu, E., Koivumaa, J., Kumar, A., Hou, M., Deisseroth, K., Boyden, E. & LeDoux, J.E.:
    "Hebbian and neuromodulatory mechanisms interact to trigger associative memory formation."
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(51):E5584-92 (2014)
  2. Herry, C & Johansen, J.P.:
    "Encoding of fear learning and memory in distributed neural circuits."
    Nature Neuroscience, 17(12):1644-54 (2014)
  3. Johansen, J.P.:
    "Anxiety is the sum of its parts."
    Nature, 496 (7444):174-5 (2013)
  4. Johansen, J.P., Wolf, S.B.E., Luthi, A. & LeDoux, J.E.:
    "Controlling the elements: an optogenetic approach to understanding the neural circuits of fear."
    Biological Psychiatry, 71(12): 1053-60 (2012)
  5. Johansen, J.P., Ostroff, L., Cain, C.K., LeDoux, J.E.:
    "Molecular mechanisms of fear learning and memory."
    Cell, 147: 509-524 (2011)
  6. McNally, G.P., Johansen, J.P. & Blair, H.T.:
    "Placing prediction into the fear circuit."
    Trends in Neuroscience, 13: 283-292 (2011)
  7. Johansen, J.P., Tarpley, J.W., Ledoux, J.E., Blair, H.T.:
    "Neural substrates for expectancy-modulated fear learning in the amygdala and periaqueductal gray."
    Nature Neuroscience, 13: 979-986 (2010)
  8. Johansen, J.P., Hamanaka, H., Monfils, M.H., Behnia, R., Deisseroth, K., Blair, H.T., LeDoux, J.E.:
    "Optical activation of lateral amygdala pyramidal cells instructs associative fear learning."
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(28): 12692-12697 (2010)
  9. Johansen, J.P. & Fields, H.L.:
    "Glutamatergic activation of anterior cingulate cortex produces an aversive teaching signal."
    Nature Neuroscience, 7(4):398-403 (2004)
  10. Johansen, J. P., Fields, H L, Manning, B M.:
    "The affective component of pain in rodents: Direct evidence for a contribution of the anterior cingulate cortex."
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(14)8077-8082 (2001)

Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Joshua Johansen
Laboratory Head

Core Members

Adam Zachary Weitemier
Research Scientist
Ray Luo
Research Scientist
Akira Uematsu
Special Postdoctoral Researcher
Bao Zhen Tan
Foreign Postdoctoral Researcher
John Ormond
Foreign Postdoctoral Researcher
Mayumi Watanabe
Junior Research Associate
Yuri Ishizu
Technical Staff I
Jenny Koivumaa
Technical Staff I
Edgar Ycu
Technical Staff I
Jessica Natali Sulkes Cuevas
Technical Staff I
Michiko Fujisawa

Contact information

2-1 Hirosawa, Wako, Saitama 351-0198, Japan

Email: jjohans [at]

Related links

Recent research results