Selim Zilkha
“I have started many businesses in my life, but my most important legacy is this institute.” – Selim Zilkha, businessman and philanthropist


Selim Zilkha’s commitment to combating brain diseases and disorders

The Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute (ZNI) was partially funded from the 1999 gift of $110 million given by the W. M. Keck Foundation, which named the Keck School of Medicine. The gift designated $22 million to build the new Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute facility on the Health Sciences Campus. With a $20 million gift in 2002 toward the establishment of the institute, Selim Zilkha and his wife, Mary Hayley, provided the foundation for breakthrough neuroscience research at the Keck School of Medicine.

Deeply devoted to the future of research, Mr. Zilkha and Ms. Hayley have contributed a total of $30 million to ZNI. The W.M. Keck Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided additional capital funding to the institute.

ZNI opened in 2003 in a six-story building on the USC Health Sciences Campus. With more than 70,000 square feet of lab space, the state-of-the-art facilities have helped attract some of the brightest medical minds of this generation. Working together under one roof, our team is dedicated to understanding neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, visual and hearing disorders, depression and anxiety.


WM Keck Foundation gives naming gift for USC Medical School containing the provision that $20M “be used and applied towards the design, construction and completion of a Neurogenetics Institute building.”



Selim Zilkha provides matching grant and USC creates the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute (ZNI).
Brian E Henderson MD is named founding Director.

Zilkha advisor H. Robert Horvitz awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


ZNI opens with a core group of faculty from the departments of Cell & Neurobiology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Physiology & Biophysics


Zach W Hall PhD, Sr Associate Dean for Research at Keck School of Medicine, recruits five new faculty to join ZNI.

ZNI accepts its first recruits and begins to fill its laboratories.


ZNI member Li Zhang is named to the prestigious Searle Scholars Program.
Jeannie Chen PhD appointed as Interim Director of ZNI by Dean Henderson.

ZNI hosts three new faculty recruits for Norris Cancer Center while Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower is constructed.

Carlos N Pato joins USC as Chair of Psychiatry & the Behavioral Sciences, opens laboratory in ZNI for studying genetics of mental illness.


David Warren recruited as Senior Administrative Director of ZNI.
ZNI laboratories are 93 percent full.

ZNI member Li Zhang receives a $625,000 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

ZNI accepts delivery of a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, used by Tobias Ulmer PhD to illuminate the three-dimensional structures of proteins and their dynamics at atomic resolution, as he attempts to unravel some of the cellular mysteries of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.


Carmen Puliafito MD MBA appointed Dean of Keck School of Medicine, temporarily houses Stem Cell researchers at ZNI while Eli & Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research is built.
Parsons Foundation provides support for ZNI to purchase a transmission electron microscope designed to visualize proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases.


Pat Levitt, PhD is appointed as the first permanent director of the ZNI.
ZNI accepts two new recruits.

ZNI surpasses $13 million in NIH funding.


ZNI receives P30 grant from National Institute of Mental Health to recruit two new junior faculty.

ZNI receives 10 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants, representing 46% of KSOM total ARRA funding



ZNI researchers submit 55 new grant proposals.
ZNI receives its second K99 award from NIH.

ZNI holds 45 grants from 15 distinct institutes within National Institutes of Health.


Selim Zilkha pledges $5 million to establish the Zilkha Senior Scholar Award.
ZNI hosts the first annual Zach Hall Lecture on 11/12/2011.

ZNI establishes a Clinician-Scientist Incubator Laboratory, allowing practicing neurosurgeons to collaborate with basic scientists.

ZNI co-sponsors with UCLA and Los Angeles Community College for the second time, the LA Brain Bee, an event encouraging high school students to explore the field of neuroscience and the winner Thanh-Liem Huynh-Tran of Carpinteria goes on to win the national and international event

ZNI researchers discover that the placenta, not the mother, is responsible for fetal brain development.


Berislav V. Zlokovic, MD, PhD is appointed director of ZNI.
ZNI welcomes Nobel Laureates Eric Kandel MD (Columbia University) and Stanley Prusiner MD (UCSF) for two separate USC Irene McCulloch Distinguished Lectures.

Thomas Südhof MD (Stanford) gives the 3rd Annual Zach Hall Lecture at USC and receives the Nobel Prize for Physiology & Medicine the next October.

ZNI researchers discover the first gene associated with autism.


Selim Zilkha and Mary Hayley pledge $5 million to establish the Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha Chair for Alzheimer’s disease Research.
ZNI researchers publish more than 120 papers in peer reviewed journals, 14% of which were in high-impact journals.

ZNI hosts on the health sciences campus for the first time, the LA Brain Bee with participation of 47 high school students from 14 area schools.

ZNI accepts delivery of its second NMR, a 600 MHz solid state spectrometer, used by the Protein Structure Group to investigate amyloid fibrils, which are implicated in Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Disease.

ZNI welcomes new investigators from the former House Research Institute.

ZNI scientists discover air pollution and genetics combine to increase risk for autism.


ZNI hosts first annual Zilkha Symposium on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
ZNI begin Music to Remember program with LA Opera, bringing music and memories to individuals experiencing various stages of dementia at long-term and assisted care living facilities throughout LA.

Experimental stroke therapeutic developed at ZNI shows promise for people with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).


ZNI scientists make breakthrough for early onset detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
ZNI scientist discovers gene a variant associated with hearing loss from hazardous noise.

ZNI researcher characterized how maternal depression and use of SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy directly affect fetal brain development.

ZNI physician-scientist awarded grant to study affects of air pollution from vehicular exhaust affects victims of acute stroke.


NI scientist demonstrated how certain protein modifications called phosphorylation are potentially related to risk for developing autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia.

ZNI researcher provided direct evidence that factors associated with obesity can have a pronounced impact on protein misfolding, a potential link to dementias.

A ZNI faculty member is currently developing a new regenerative therapeutic approach for the treatment of chronic kidney disease.

Dr Zlokovic included in Thomson Reuters list of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds (2016).


ZNI scientist discovered a protein mutated in Autism and upregulared in Down syndrome differentially regulates the recycling of synaptic vesicles.

In collaboration with other USC researchers, ZNI faculty performed the first study of Zika virus tropism in human fetal brain slices, published in Scientific Reports.

ZNI researcher identified a previously undescribed neuronal circuit that controls an ultradian rhythm in C elegans, which uses neuropeptides released from a single neuron to activate muscle contraction.

ZNI faculty was able to express light-sensitive channels in separate neuronal groups in the superior colliculus, receiving inputs from auditory cortex and visual cortex respectively.

ZNI obtained a cutting-edge small animal 7T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and established the functional biological imaging (FBI) core.


ZNI researchers receive a number of collaborative awards from foundations and the NIH, with most running 3-5 years or more and involving PIs across multiple USC departments.

Most ZNI faculty are in the Department of Physiology which in 2017 rose in the rankings from 39 to 20, only to become number 2 in the nation in 2018.