JOHN LISMAN, PhD / (781)736-3145

My laboratory is interested in two questions: the mechanisms of memory in the brain and the mechanisms of phototransduction in photoreceptors. In both cases, we seek to determine how chemical and electrical processes can work as a system to perform physiological function.

We are using the rat brain slice to study activity-dependent synaptic plasticity. Most recently, we found that plasticity is greatly heightened during a cholinergically-induced theta-frequency oscillation of the hippocampal network. As a step in this direction, we have developed a means of monitoring individual synapses in the dendrites using Ca2+-sensitive dyes and optical detection methods. Theoretical studies are also being done in an attempt to explore the possible relationship of brain oscillations to memory events. Most recently, it has become possible to test various theories by measuring oscillations from the brain surface of patients being treated for epilepsy. These patients are willing to do standard memory tests and we can directly measure what is going on in their brains during these tests.

A related question of interest is the molecular basis of memory. We have done theoretical work suggesting that the repository of synaptic memory may be the calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase II contained within a synaptic structure called the postsynaptic density. There is now substantial support for this model and we are attempting further tests. The processes of synaptic plasticity are not fixed, but rather can be altered by neuromodulators. Our recent work shows that dopamine can affect both the strengthening and weakening of synapses.

In the area of phototransduction, a central problem is the elucidation of the cascade reactions by which a single photon absorbed by rhodopsin activates thousands of channels. We have obtained evidence for the involvement of Ca2+ released by G protein, phospholipase-C, IP3 cascade. However, we have evidence that the channels are directly opened by cGMP. Thus, the current problem is to understand how cGMP might be generated by Ca2+. This marvelous cascade provides the opportunity to study other interesting reactions such as modulation of rhodopsin deactivation and the role of GTP hydrolysis.

Professional and Educational Experience

  • 1986- Present Professor, Brandeis University, Department of Biology, Waltham, MA
  • 1980-1985 Chairman; program in Biophysics, Brandeis University
  • 1980-1986 Brandeis University, Department of Biology, Waltham, MA Associate Professor
  • 1974-1980 Brandeis University, Department of Biology, Waltham, MA Assistant Professor
  • 1972-1974 Harvard University, Cambridge, MA NIH postdoctoral fellow with Professor George Wald
  • 1966-1971 MIT, Cambridge, MA Ph.D. awarded in Physiology; thesis advisor, Joel Brown
  • 1962-1966 Brandeis University, Waltham, MA graduate cum laude in physics

Professional Associations

  • The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology;
  • Biophysical Society; Society for Neuroscience

    • M.B.L. Award, 1971: for best research by a young investigator.
    • Grass Foundation Fellow, 1972.
    • Merit Award - 1988-1998 - NIH Grant for study of vision
    • Jacob Javits Award - 1989-1996 - NIH Grant for study of memory
    • Chairman, Summer 1993; FASEB Conference:
    • The Biology and Chemistry of Vision
    • Regular Member of NIH Visual Disorders Study Section 1983 to 1988

Study Section:

  • Member of NIH study-section for post-doctoral fellowships in Vision Research June 1979-1983
  • Permanent Member of NIH Visual Disorders Study Section 1983 to 1988.

Editorial Board:

  • Board of Editors, Visual Neuroscience, 1987-1990
  • Associate Editor, The Journal of Neuroscience, 1995-present


  • Various courses including Introductory Cell and Neurobiology for non- majors, General Cell Biology, Advanced Neurobiology, Physiological Basis of Psychological Processes.
  • Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA Course: Methods in Computational Neuroscience August 1993, August 1994, and August 1995

Recent Lectures:

  • Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds International Titisee Conference, Germany, March 1995, Participant.
  • IBRO Satellite Symposium, "Cellular Determinants of Learning and Memory," July 1995, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan, Participant.
  • University of Virginia, Invited Speaker, October 3, 1995
  • John Hopkins University, Invited Speaker, September 14, 1995
  • University of Massachusetts, Invited Speaker, October 12, 1995
  • Caltech, Invited Speaker, October 23, 1995
  • Salk Institute, Invited Speaker, October 24, 1995
  • Vollum Institute, Invited Speaker, October 27, 1995
  • Williams College, Invited Speaker, November 3, 1995
  • Boston University School of Medicine, Invited Speaker, November 7, 1995
  • Dartmouth College, Invited Speaker, December 1, 1995
  • Harvard University, Invited Speaker, December 6, 1995
  • Winter Conference on Neural Plasticity, Invited Speaker, St. Lucia, Feb 24-Mar.2, 1996
  • Rutgers University, June 14, 1996.
  • Cold Spring Harbor Lab, Learning and Memory Conf., Oct.2-6, 1996
  • Banbury Conference, Cold Spring Harbor Lab, October 6-9, 1996
  • Concordia University, October 17, 1996, Invited Speaker
  • Columbia University, October 24, 1996, Invited Speaker
  • University of Wisconsin, November 11-12, 1996, Invited Speaker
  • Leipzig University, Germany, Invited Speaker, November 22-25, 1996
  • Am. College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Mtg., Invited Speaker, Dec. 11, 1996
  • Univ. Of British Columbia, Invited Speaker, March 17, 1997
  • Univ. Of California, LA, Invited Speaker, March 18, 1997
  • NIH Conference, “Control of Genes, Development and Plasticity by Neural Impulses,” Invited Speaker, June 7, 1997
  • Children’s Hospital, Boston, Grand Rounds Speaker, September 17, 1997
  • John Hopkins University, Invited Speaker, October 6, 1997
  • University of Minnesota, Institute for Mathematics and Its Applications, Invited Speaker, January 18, 1998.
  • Univeristy of Pittsburgh, Invited Speaker, February 11, 1998.
  • University College, Invited Speaker, London, England, March 1998
  • Medical Research Council, Invited Speaker, London, England, March 1998
  • State University of New York, Buffalo, NY, Invited Speaker, April 9, 1998
  • Spring Hippocampal Conference, Grand Cayman Islands, Speaker, April 1998
  • Cajal Institute, Spain, Guest Speaker, May 18, 1998.
  • University of Maryland, Conference on “Neural Modeling Disorders”, Panel Chairperson, June 4, 1998.
  • Boston University, David Marr Conference, September 17-18, 1998
  • Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York, Invited Speaker, September 24-25, 1998
  • Duke University, Invited Speaker, October 2, 1998
  • Massachusetts General Hospital, Grand Rounds Speaker, October 29, 1998
  • International Conference on Complex Systems, Invited Speaker, October 29, 1998
  • FASEB Conference: The Biology and Chemistry of Vision, Copper Mtn., June 15-17, 1999
  • Max-Planck-Inst. Fur medizinische Forschung, Guest Speaker, July 23, 1999
  • Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg, Guest Speaker, July 29, 1999

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