Ilana Witten, Ph.D.

Ilana Witten
Assistant Professor
Princeton University
1-S-16 Green Hall
City, State, Zip
Princeton, NJ 8544
Research Field
Award Year


Our lab aims to identify the neural substrates that mediate working memory. Almost every task in life relies on working memory – the ability to remember and manipulate information over short periods of time. Pharmacological studies have demonstrated that working memory depends upon the release of chemicals in the brain, including two neuromodulators, dopamine and acetylcholine. How these neuromodulators regulate working memory and what areas of the brain they target to change behavior is largely unknown. I previously developed a new approach to control acetylcholine release in the brain's pleasure center, integrating optogenetics, in vitro and in vivo physiology, and freely-moving mammalian behavior. Through that approach, I was able to demonstrate that without activation of neurons that release acetylcholine, behavioral conditioning will not occur. With the Pew award, we will employ optogenetics to exert precise control over the firing pattern of neuromodulatory neurons during tasks that rely on working memory. Given that many neurological and psychiatric diseases are characterized by deficits in working memory, this research promises to provide new insight into the neural substrates of working memory in both health and disease.

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