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Li Zhang, PhD
Professor of Physiology and Biophysics
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
ZNI 419 1501 San Pablo Street Health Sciences Campus Los Angeles
+1 323 442 4347


As a systems neuroscientist, our ultimate research goal is to decipher the brain circuits, and to understand how perception and behaviors are generated and controlled, how the brain?s cortex adapts in response to changes in the dynamic external environment, and how specific changes in cortical functions result in neurological and psychiatric disorders. To address these highly challenging questions, our approach is to resolve the neural circuitry (how neurons are wired in the brain), i.e. the structural basis underlying the brain functions.

Technical innovation is the key for exploring the dauntingly complex brain circuits. In the past years, we have committed substantial efforts in developing molecular/genetic and electrophysiological/imaging techniques for elucidating the neural circuits for both local neuronal computation and for controlling animal behavior. To this end, we have pioneered in applying in vivo whole-cell voltage-clamp recording, to reveal at the synaptic connection level, how the excitatory and inhibitory synaptic interplay determines the sensory response/processing properties. We have now integrated a broad spectrum of state-of-the-art approaches, including in vivo and in vitro electrophysiology, two-photon Ca2+ imaging, neural modeling, anatomical tracing and optogentics, to build an understanding of neural circuits composed of different cell types.


White House: Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers , 2008

David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, 2006

Searle Scholar Program, Kinship Foundation: Searle Scholar Award, 2005

The Esther A. & and Joseph Klingenstein Fund: Klingenstein Fellowship Award in Neuroscience, 2005


Ji XY, Zingg B, Mesik L, Xiao Z, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Thalamocortical Innervation Pattern in Mouse Auditory and Visual Cortex: Laminar and Cell-Type Specificity. Cereb Cortex. 2016 Jun; 26(6):2612-25. View in: PubMed

Kim YJ, Ibrahim LA, Wang SZ, Yuan W, Evgrafov OV, Knowles JA, Wang K, Tao HW, Zhang LI. EphA7 regulates spiral ganglion innervation of cochlear hair cells. Dev Neurobiol. 2016 Apr; 76(4):452-69. View in: PubMed

Ibrahim LA, Mesik L, Ji XY, Fang Q, Li HF, Li YT, Zingg B, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Cross-Modality Sharpening of Visual Cortical Processing through Layer-1-Mediated Inhibition and Disinhibition. Neuron. 2016 Mar 2; 89(5):1031-45. View in: PubMed

Kim YJ, Wang SZ, Tymanskyj S, Ma L, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Dcc Mediates Functional Assembly of Peripheral Auditory Circuits. Sci Rep. 2016; 6:23799. View in: PubMed

Li YT, Liu BH, Chou XL, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Strengthening of Direction Selectivity by Broadly Tuned and Spatiotemporally Slightly Offset Inhibition in Mouse Visual Cortex. Cereb Cortex. 2015 Sep; 25(9):2466-77. View in: PubMed

Li YT, Liu BH, Chou XL, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Synaptic Basis for Differential Orientation Selectivity between Complex and Simple Cells in Mouse Visual Cortex. J Neurosci. 2015 Aug 5; 35(31):11081-93. View in: PubMed

Li LY, Xiong XR, Ibrahim LA, Yuan W, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Differential Receptive Field Properties of Parvalbumin and Somatostatin Inhibitory Neurons in Mouse Auditory Cortex. Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jul; 25(7):1782-91. View in: PubMed

Liang F, Xiong XR, Zingg B, Ji XY, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Sensory Cortical Control of a Visually Induced Arrest Behavior via Corticotectal Projections. Neuron. 2015 May 6; 86(3):755-67. View in: PubMed

Zhou M, Li YT, Yuan W, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Synaptic mechanisms for generating temporal diversity of auditory representation in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. J Neurophysiol. 2015 Mar 1; 113(5):1358-68. View in: PubMed

Albers MW, Gilmore GC, Kaye J, Murphy C, Wingfield A, Bennett DA, Boxer AL, Buchman AS, Cruickshanks KJ, Devanand DP, Duffy CJ, Gall CM, Gates GA, Granholm AC, Hensch T, Holtzer R, Hyman BT, Lin FR, McKee AC, Morris JC, Petersen RC, Silbert LC, Struble RG, Trojanowski JQ, Verghese J, Wilson DA, Xu S, Zhang LI. At the interface of sensory and motor dysfunctions and Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Jan; 11(1):70-98. View in: PubMed

Mesik L, Ma WP, Li LY, Ibrahim LA, Huang ZJ, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Functional response properties of VIP-expressing inhibitory neurons in mouse visual and auditory cortex. Front Neural Circuits. 2015; 9:22. View in: PubMed

Xiong XR, Liang F, Zingg B, Ji XY, Ibrahim LA, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Auditory cortex controls sound-driven innate defense behaviour through corticofugal projections to inferior colliculus. Nat Commun. 2015; 6:7224. View in: PubMed

Li LY, Ji XY, Liang F, Li YT, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI. A feedforward inhibitory circuit mediates lateral refinement of sensory representation in upper layer 2/3 of mouse primary auditory cortex. J Neurosci. 2014 Oct 8; 34(41):13670-83. View in: PubMed

Tao HW, Li YT, Zhang LI. Formation of excitation-inhibition balance: inhibition listens and changes its tune. Trends Neurosci. 2014 Oct; 37(10):528-30. View in: PubMed

Zhou M, Liang F, Xiong XR, Li L, Li H, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Scaling down of balanced excitation and inhibition by active behavioral states in auditory cortex. Nat Neurosci. 2014 Jun; 17(6):841-50. View in: PubMed

Liu Y, Kim YJ, Ji M, Fang J, Siriwon N, Zhang LI, Wang P. Enhancing gene delivery of adeno-associated viruses by cell-permeable peptides. Mol Ther Methods Clin Dev. 2014; 1:12. View in: PubMed

Liang F, Bai L, Tao HW, Zhang LI, Xiao Z. Thresholding of auditory cortical representation by background noise. Front Neural Circuits. 2014; 8:133. View in: PubMed

Li YT, Ibrahim LA, Liu BH, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Linear transformation of thalamocortical input by intracortical excitation. Nat Neurosci. 2013 Sep; 16(9):1324-30. View in: PubMed

Li LY, Li YT, Zhou M, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Intracortical multiplication of thalamocortical signals in mouse auditory cortex. Nat Neurosci. 2013 Sep; 16(9):1179-81. View in: PubMed

Xiong XR, Liang F, Li H, Mesik L, Zhang KK, Polley DB, Tao HW, Xiao Z, Zhang LI. Interaural level difference-dependent gain control and synaptic scaling underlying binaural computation. Neuron. 2013 Aug 21; 79(4):738-53. View in: PubMed

Wang SZ, Ibrahim LA, Kim YJ, Gibson DA, Leung HC, Yuan W, Zhang KK, Tao HW, Ma L, Zhang LI. Slit/Robo signaling mediates spatial positioning of spiral ganglion neurons during development of cochlear innervation. J Neurosci. 2013 Jul 24; 33(30):12242-54. View in: PubMed

Sun YJ, Kim YJ, Ibrahim LA, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Synaptic mechanisms underlying functional dichotomy between intrinsic-bursting and regular-spiking neurons in auditory cortical layer 5. J Neurosci. 2013 Mar 20; 33(12):5326-39. View in: PubMed

Zhou M, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Generation of intensity selectivity by differential synaptic tuning: fast-saturating excitation but slow-saturating inhibition. J Neurosci. 2012 Dec 12; 32(50):18068-78. View in: PubMed

Zhou Y, Mesik L, Sun YJ, Liang F, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Generation of spike latency tuning by thalamocortical circuits in auditory cortex. J Neurosci. 2012 Jul 18; 32(29):9969-80. View in: PubMed

Li YT, Ma WP, Pan CJ, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Broadening of cortical inhibition mediates developmental sharpening of orientation selectivity. J Neurosci. 2012 Mar 21; 32(12):3981-91. View in: PubMed

Chong SY, Rosenberg SS, Fancy SP, Zhao C, Shen YA, Hahn AT, McGee AW, Xu X, Zheng B, Zhang LI, Rowitch DH, Franklin RJ, Lu QR, Chan JR. Neurite outgrowth inhibitor Nogo-A establishes spatial segregation and extent of oligodendrocyte myelination. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jan 24; 109(4):1299-304. View in: PubMed

Wu GK, Tao HW, Zhang LI. From elementary synaptic circuits to information processing in primary auditory cortex. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011 Nov; 35(10):2094-104. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Zhou Y, Tao HW. Perspectives on: information and coding in mammalian sensory physiology: inhibitory synaptic mechanisms underlying functional diversity in auditory cortex. J Gen Physiol. 2011 Sep; 138(3):311-20. View in: PubMed

Liu BH, Li YT, Ma WP, Pan CJ, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Broad inhibition sharpens orientation selectivity by expanding input dynamic range in mouse simple cells. Neuron. 2011 Aug 11; 71(3):542-54. View in: PubMed

Ma WP, Liu BH, Li YT, Huang ZJ, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Visual representations by cortical somatostatin inhibitory neurons--selective but with weak and delayed responses. J Neurosci. 2010 Oct 27; 30(43):14371-9. View in: PubMed

Sun YJ, Wu GK, Liu BH, Li P, Zhou M, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Fine-tuning of pre-balanced excitation and inhibition during auditory cortical development. Nature. 2010 Jun 17; 465(7300):927-31. View in: PubMed

Zhou Y, Liu BH, Wu GK, Kim YJ, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Preceding inhibition silences layer 6 neurons in auditory cortex. Neuron. 2010 Mar 11; 65(5):706-17. View in: PubMed

Liu BH, Li P, Sun YJ, Li YT, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Intervening inhibition underlies simple-cell receptive field structure in visual cortex. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Jan; 13(1):89-96. View in: PubMed

Liu BH, Li P, Li YT, Sun YJ, Yanagawa Y, Obata K, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Visual receptive field structure of cortical inhibitory neurons revealed by two-photon imaging guided recording. J Neurosci. 2009 Aug 26; 29(34):10520-32. View in: PubMed

Wang SZ, Liu BH, Tao HW, Xia K, Zhang LI. A genetic strategy for stochastic gene activation with regulated sparseness (STARS). PLoS One. 2009; 4(1):e4200. View in: PubMed

Wu GK, Arbuckle R, Liu BH, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Lateral sharpening of cortical frequency tuning by approximately balanced inhibition. Neuron. 2008 Apr 10; 58(1):132-43. View in: PubMed

Liu BH, Wu GK, Arbuckle R, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Defining cortical frequency tuning with recurrent excitatory circuitry. Nat Neurosci. 2007 Dec; 10(12):1594-600. View in: PubMed

Liu Y, Zhang LI, Tao HW. Heterosynaptic scaling of developing GABAergic synapses: dependence on glutamatergic input and developmental stage. J Neurosci. 2007 May 16; 27(20):5301-12. View in: PubMed

Wu GK, Li P, Tao HW, Zhang LI. Nonmonotonic synaptic excitation and imbalanced inhibition underlying cortical intensity tuning. Neuron. 2006 Nov 22; 52(4):705-15. View in: PubMed

Tan AY, Zhang LI, Merzenich MM, Schreiner CE. Tone-evoked excitatory and inhibitory synaptic conductances of primary auditory cortex neurons. J Neurophysiol. 2004 Jul; 92(1):630-43. View in: PubMed

Nakahara H, Zhang LI, Merzenich MM. Specialization of primary auditory cortex processing by sound exposure in the "critical period". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 May 4; 101(18):7170-4. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Tan AY, Schreiner CE, Merzenich MM. Topography and synaptic shaping of direction selectivity in primary auditory cortex. Nature. 2003 Jul 10; 424(6945):201-5. View in: PubMed

Bao S, Chan VT, Zhang LI, Merzenich MM. Suppression of cortical representation through backward conditioning. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Feb 4; 100(3):1405-8. View in: PubMed

Engert F, Tao HW, Zhang LI, Poo MM. Moving visual stimuli rapidly induce direction sensitivity of developing tectal neurons. Nature. 2002 Oct 3; 419(6906):470-5. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Bao S, Merzenich MM. Disruption of primary auditory cortex by synchronous auditory inputs during a critical period. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Feb 19; 99(4):2309-14. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Bao S, Merzenich MM. Persistent and specific influences of early acoustic environments on primary auditory cortex. Nat Neurosci. 2001 Nov; 4(11):1123-30. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Poo MM. Electrical activity and development of neural circuits. Nat Neurosci. 2001 Nov; 4 Suppl:1207-14. View in: PubMed

Tao HW, Zhang LI, Engert F, Poo M. Emergence of input specificity of ltp during development of retinotectal connections in vivo. Neuron. 2001 Aug 30; 31(4):569-80. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Tao HW, Poo M. Visual input induces long-term potentiation of developing retinotectal synapses. Nat Neurosci. 2000 Jul; 3(7):708-15. View in: PubMed

Tao H, Zhang LI, Bi G, Poo M. Selective presynaptic propagation of long-term potentiation in defined neural networks. J Neurosci. 2000 May 1; 20(9):3233-43. View in: PubMed

Zhang LI, Tao HW, Holt CE, Harris WA, Poo M. A critical window for cooperation and competition among developing retinotectal synapses. Nature. 1998 Sep 3; 395(6697):37-44. View in: PubMed

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