Susumu Tonegawa

Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D.

RIKEN fellow, RIKEN-MIT Laboratory for Neural Circuit Genetics
tonegawa [at]

Research Overview

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

Related Research Fields


Selected Publications

  1. Josselyn, S. and Tonegawa, S.
    "Memory engrams: recalling the past and imagining the future"
    Science 367: eaaw4325 (2020).
  2. Sun, C., Yang, W., Martin, J., Tonegawa, S.
    "Hippocampal neurons represent events as transferable units of experience"
    Nat Neurosci 23:651-663 (2020).
  3. Kitamura, T., Ogawa, S.K., Roy, D.S., Okuyama, T., Morrissey, M., Smith, L.S., Redondo, R.L., Tonegawa, S.
    "Engrams and circuits crucial for systems consolidation of a memory"
    Science 356: 73-78 (2017).
  4. Roy, D.S., Arons, A., Mitchell, T.I., Pignatelli, M., Ryan, T.J., Tonegawa, S.
    "Memory retrieval by activating engram cells in mouse models of early Alzheimer’s disease"
    Nature. 531: 508-512 (2016).
  5. Redondo R., Kim J., Arons A., Ramirez S., Liu X., Tonegawa S.
    "Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram"
    Nature 513: 426-430 (2014).
  6. Ramirez S., Liu X., Lin P.A., Suh J., Pignatelli M., Redondo R., Ryan T.J., and Tonegawa S.:
    "Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus"
    Science, 341, 387-391 (2013)
  7. 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, doi:10.1038/nature11028 (2012)
  8. 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)
  9. 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)
  10. 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)