Centers & Labs

RIKEN Brain Science Institute

RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics (CNCG)

Laboratory Head: Susumu Tonegawa (Ph.D.)
Susumu  Tonegawa(Ph.D.)

Learning and memory are vital for day-to-day living—from finding our way home to playing tennis to giving a cohesive speech. Some of us have personally witnessed the devastating consequences of memory disorders, whether it's the severe inability to form new memories, as seen in Alzheimer's patients, or difficulty in suppressing a recall of a memory of a highly unpleasant experience, as seen in PTSD patients. The main research interest in our laboratory is to decipher brain mechanisms subserving learning and memory.

We seek to understand what happens in the brain when a memory is formed, when a fragile short-term memory is consolidated to a solid long-term memory, and when a memory formed previously is recalled on subsequent occasions.

We also seek to understand the role of memory in decision-making, and how various external or internal factors, such as reward, punishment, attention and the subject's emotional state, affect learning and memory. In summary, we study how the central nervous system in the brain enables our mind, with a focus on learning and memory.

Main Research Field

Neuroscience & Behavior

Related Research Fields

Biology & Biochemistry / Molecular Biology & Genetics

Research Subjects

  • Role of the direct EC→CA1 pathway in hippocampal learning and memory, and memory consolidation.
  • Role of mossy fiber input from dentate gyrus granule cells in pattern completion and separation.
  • Interaction of the trisynaptic and monosynaptic pathways, as well as subcortical pathways in novelty detection and novelty-triggered learning.
  • Localization, visualization and modulation of memory engrams through the combined use of transgenic and optogenetic methods, such as channelrhodopsin and halorhodopsin.
  • Mechanism for memory reconsolidation and extinction at the memory engram level.
  • Role of protein-synthesis dependent LTP in memory consolidation.
  • Roles of "preplay" in learning and "replay" in memory consolidation.
  • Role of specific neural circuits involving neuromodulators (dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine) in learning and memory, decision-making and control of behaviors.
  • Role of PAK1 biochemical pathway in fragile X mental retardation.

Selected Publications

  1. Ramirez, S., Liu, X., Lin, P.A., Suh, J., Pignatelli, M., Redondo, R., Ryan, T.J., Tonegawa, S.:
    "Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus"
    Science. 341: 387-391 (2013).
  2. Dragoi, D. and Tonegawa, S.:
    "Distinct preplay of multiple novel spatial experiences in the rat"
    PNAS. 110 (22): 9100-9105 (2013).
  3. Dolan, B.M., Duron, S.G., Campbell, D.A., Vollrath, B., Rao, B.S.S., Ko, H.Y., Lin, G.G., Govindarajan, A., Choi, S.Y., Tonegawa, S.:
    "Rescue of fragile X syndrome phenotypes in Fmr1 KO mice by the small-molecule PAK inhibitor FRAX486"
    PNAS. 110 (14):5671-6 (2013).
  4. Liu X., Ramirez, S., Pang, P., Puryear, C., Govindarajan, A., Deisseroth, K., and Tonegawa S.:
    "Optogenetic stimulation of a hippocampal engram activates fear memory recall"
    Nature (2012), doi:10.1038/nature11028.
  5. Nakashiba, T., Cushman, J., Pelkey, K., Renaudineau, S., Buhl, D., McHugh, T.J., Rodriguez Barrera, V., Chittajallu, R., Iwamoto, K.S., McBain, C.J., Fanselow, M.S. and Tonegawa, S.:
    "Young Dentate Granule Cells Mediate Pattern Separation whereas Old Granule Cells Facilitate Pattern Completion"
    Cell 149 (1): 188-201 (2012).
  6. Nakazawa, K., Quirk, M.C., Chitwood, R.A., Watanabe, M., Yeckel, M.F., Sun, L.D., Kato, A., Carr, C.A., Johnston, D., Wilson, M.A., and Tonegawa, S.:
    "Requirement for hippocampal CA3 NMDA receptors in associative memory recall"
    Science 297:211-218 (2002).
  7. Zeng, H., Chattarji, S., Barbarosie, M., Rondi-Reig, L., Philpot, B.D., Miyakawa, T., Bear, M.F., and Tonegawa, S.:
    "Forebrain-specific calcineurin knockout selectively impairs bidirectional synaptic plasticity and working/episodic-like memory"
    Cell 107:617-629 (2001).
  8. Tsien, J.Z., Huerta, P.T., and Tonegawa, S.:
    "The essential role of hippocampal CA1 NMDA receptor-dependent synaptic plasticity in spatial memory"
    Cell 87:1327-1338 (1996).
  9. Silva, A., Paylor, R., Wehner, J.M., and Tonegawa, S.:
    "Impaired Spatial Learning in a Calcium-Calmodulin Kinase II Mutant Mice"
    Science 257:206-211 (1992).
  10. Tonegawa, S.:
    "Somatic Generation of Antibody Diversity"
    Nature 302:575-581 (1983).

Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Susumu Tonegawa
Laboratory Head

Core Members

Kathleen Mulroy
Program Operations Coordinator
Dennis King
Lab Manager/Research Specialist
Arek Hamalian
Financial Assistant II
Tim O'Connor
Software Engineer
Shu Ying Huang
Research Specialist
Chanel Lovett
Research Specialist
Mike Ragion
Research Specialist
Carrie Ragion
Research Specialist
Gishnu Das
Research Scientist
George Dragoi
Research Scientist
Hae-Yoon Jung
Research Scientist
Keigo Kohara
Research Scientist
Xu Liu
Research Scientist
Chris MacDonald
Research Scientist
Toshiaki Nakashiba
Research Scientist
Junghyup Suh
Research Scientist
Lisa Sultzman
Research Scientist
Jun Yamamoto
Research Scientist
Jennie Young
Research Scientist
Emily Hueske
Postdoctoral Associate
Michele Pignatelli di Spinazzola
Postdoctoral Associate
Roger Redondo
Postdoctoral Associate
Tomas Ryan
Postdoctoral Associate
Josh Sarinana
Postdoctoral Associate
Akiko Wagatsuma
Postdoctoral Associate
Takashi Kitamura
Postdoctoral Fellow
Teruhiro Okuyama
Postdoctoral Fellow
Daigo Takeuchi
Postdoctoral Fellow
Frank Bushard
Technical Associate
Jayson Derwin
Technical Associate
Sean Perry
Technical Associate
Heather Sullivan
Technical Associate
Autumn Arons
Technical Assistant
Ellie Immerman
Technical Assistant
Koichiro Kajikawa
Technical Assistant
Anthony Moffa
Technical Assistant
Lily Smith
Technical Assistant
Carl Twiss
Technical Assistant
Yanzhi Wang
Technical Assistant
Wenjiang Yu
Technical Assistant
Jared Martin
Technical Assistant
Xiaoning Zhou
Spons. Res. Tech. Staff
Kean Jaime-Bustamante
Graduate Student
Josh Kim
Graduate Student
Steve Ramirez
Graduate Student
Dheeraj Roy
Graduate Student
Sangyu Xu
Graduate Student
Amelia Mockett
Undergraduate
Catherine Potter
Undergraduate
Joanne Zhou
Undergraduate
Anne West
Undergraduate

Contact information

77 Massachusetts Ave.
46-5285
Cambridge, MA 02139. USA

Email: tonegawa [at] mit.edu

Recent research results

March 17, 2016: Press Release
Flipping a light switch recovers memories lost to Alzheimer's disease mice
September 24, 2015: Press Release
Oceans in the brain: how we remember different contexts
August 28, 2015: RIKEN RESEARCH
The power of positive memories
June 18, 2015: Press Release
Recalling positive memories reverses stress-induced depression
May 29, 2015: Press Release
Researchers retrieve “lost” memories
October 24, 2014: RIKEN RESEARCH
Memories get the emotional switch
August 28, 2014: Press Release
Researchers switch emotion linked to memory