Matthew L. Shapiro, PhD

Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics

Areas of Study

Learning and memory


  • Johns Hopkins University1987PhD
  • Johns Hopkins University1983MA
  • Colby College1981BA


Our laboratory investigates brain mechanisms of learning and memory. Memory evolved to predict the outcome of potential choices, and actual outcomes guide what we learn and remember. The brain mechanisms that link experience with outcomes and allow accurate predictions based on memory are unknown, but they require circuits in both frontal and temporal cortex. These highest level association areas let intention guide recollection and planning, and their dysfunction contributes to many neuropsychiatric disorders, including OCD, depression, schizophrenia, and autism. Injury to the prefrontal cortex in people impairs “cognitive flexibility,” such as using context to follow appropriate rules, e.g. driving on the right in Europe but on the left in the UK. Damage to medial temporal structures impairs memory in the everyday sense of the word—the ability to remember recent events, such as what you ate for dinner last night. Damage to either structure impairs tracking outcomes that change in space or time, such as remembering to get coffee at your second favorite coffee shop when your favorite one is closed. The neural mechanisms that allow these distributed circuits to cooperate remain mysterious. Our lab investigates these mechanisms by simultaneously recording neuronal activity in both circuits as rats perform learning and memory tasks that require each. After identifying activity patterns that predict successful choices, we modulate those patterns using temporary inactivation or deep brain stimulation aimed toward improving or impairing performance. Together, the approaches will help reveal communication mechanisms that allow prefrontal and medial temporal circuits to support adaptive choices.