Richard W. Tsien, PhD

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Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience; Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience; Director Neuroscience Institute; Chair Dept of Physiology and Neuroscience

D. Phil 1970 - Oxford University, Oxford, England

Tsien Lab
Synaptic Trasmission
Epilepsy, Synaptic transmission, calcium channels, autism

Contact Information

NYU Neuroscience Institute
New York University, Langone Medical Center
East River Science Park, 450 East 29th Street,9th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 646-501-4520 Fax: 646-501-4529

How do neural networks meet the demands of information processing in the brain?


My colleagues and I have held a long-standing interest in synaptic transmission, dating back to the recognition that central synapses use a hitherto unrecognized set of calcium channels, exemplified by the N-type channel, to drive exocytosis. Studies of the diversity of Ca2+ channels led to an interest in long-term potentiation and then to studies addressing more general questions about synaptic physiology. Most recently, I have been fascinated by how the properties of individual synapses contribute to the dynamics of neuronal networks. Ensembles of recurrently connected neurons generate healthy activity like sharp wave discharges but also give rise to interictal and ictal discharges. What determines the watershed between these forms of activity? What role do diverse excitatory and inhibitory synapses play in shaping the flow of information in hippocampal circuits? The advent of optical approaches has opened up rich opportunities to interrogate and manipulate neural circuitry. I am interested in using my long experience with electrical, molecular, genetic and optical approaches to develop new ways of answering such fundamental questions. The hope is that our efforts will help advance knowledge of both normal and pathophysiological brain function in disorders such as epilepsy and autism.

Selected Publications: 


  • Alabi, AA; Tsien, RW. Perspectives on kiss-and-run: role in exocytosis, endocytosis, and neurotransmission.  Annual review of physiology 2013 ;75:393-422. PMID: 23245563
  • Hong, I; Kim, J; Kim, J; Lee, S; Ko, HG; Nader, Z; Kaang, BK; Tsien, RW; Choi, S. "AMPA receptor exchange underlies transient memory destabilization on retrieval. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 May;110(20):8218-8223. PMID: 23630279
  • Mitra A, Mitra S, Tsien RW. Heterogeneous reallocation of presynaptic efficacy in recurrent excitatory microcircuits adapting to inactivity. Nat Neurosci 2012;15(2):250-7. PMID: 22179109
  • Park H, Li Y, Tsien RW. Influence of synaptic vesicle position on release probability and exocytotic fusion model. Science 2012;335(6074):1362-6. PMID: 22345401
  • Wheeler DG, Groth RD, Ma H, Barrett CF, Owen SF, Safa P, Tsien RW. CaV1 and CaV2 channels engage distinct modes of Ca2+ signaling to control CREB-dependent gene expression. Cell 2012;149(5):1112-24. PMID: 22632974
  • Li Y, Tsien RW. pHTomato, a red, genetically encoded indicator that enables multiplex interrogation of synaptic activity. Nat Neurosci 2012;15(7):1047-53. PMID: 22634730
  • Alabi, A.A., Tsien, R.W. Synaptic Vesicle Pools and Dynamics. In: The Synapse, Sheng M, Sabatini BL, Südhof T, eds., Cold Spring Harbor Press, New York. 2012.
  • Groth RD, Lindskog M, Thiagarajan TC, Li L, Tsien RW. Beta Ca2+/CaM-dependent kinase type II triggers upregulation of GluA1 to coordinate adaptation to synaptic inactivity in hippocampal neurons.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2011;108(2):838-33. PMID: 21187407
  • Yoo AS, Sun AX, Li L, Shcheglovitov A, Portmann T, Li Y, Lee-Messer C, Dolmetsch RE, Tsien RW, Crabtree GR. MicroRNA-mediated conversion of human fibroblasts to neurons. Nature 2011;476(7359):228-31. PMID: 21753754
  • Bader, PL, Faizi M, Kim LH, Owen SF, Tadross MR, Alfa RW, Bett GCL, Tsien RW, Rasmusson RL, Shamloo M. Mouse model of Timothy syndrome recapitulates triad of autistic traits. PNAS 2011;108(37):15432-15437. PMID: 21878566
  • Lindskog M, Li L, Groth RD, Poburko D, Thiagarajan TC, Han X, Tsien RW. Postsynaptic GluA1 enables acute retrograde enhancement of presynaptic function to coordinate the adaptation to synaptic inactivity.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010;107(50):21806-11. PMID: 210986665
  • Zhang Q, Li Y, Tsien RW. The dynamic control of kiss-and-run and vesicular reuse probed with single nanoparticles.  Science. 2009; 323(5920):1448-53. Epub 2009 Feb 12. PMID: 19213879
  • Kim J, Tsien RW (2008). Synapse-specific adaptations to inactivity in hippocampal circuits achieve homeostatic gain control while dampening network reverberation.  Neuron 58(6):925-37. PMID: 18579082