Craig Weiss, Ph.D.

Research Professor, Department of Neuroscience

My research interests are centered about a systems approach to the study of learning and memory in adult and aging mammalian systems. I use a multidisciplinary approach to try and answer the question of how memories are created and stored, and affected by the aging process. The learning paradigm I most often use in addressing these questions is eyeblink conditioning. This is a Pavlovian classical conditioning paradigm in which we typically pair a tone with a puff of air to the eye in order to study the mechanisms that mediate the conditioned blink. The techniques I use in addressing this question are: behavior, multichannel single neuron recording, lesions, neuronal tract tracing, behavioral pharmacology and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

As a graduate student of John Disterhoft I examined the abducens nucleus and accessory abducens nucleus to study the final motor output of the system. Then as a student of Jim Houk and Alan Gibson, I examined interactions of the inferior olivary nucleus (which transmits signals about the airpuff to the cerebellum) and the red nucleus (which transmits signals from the cerebellum to premotor and motor neurons).

As a post-doctoral student in Richard Thompson’s laboratory I examined the physiology of cerebellar Purkinje cells during eyeblink conditioning, and I developed an interest in the effects of age on learning and memory. I utilized eyeblink conditioning in freely moving rats to confirm previous reports (in rabbits and humans) of a progressive age-related deficit. I also demonstrated important differences among strains of rats, and that certain forms of stress can actually facilitate learning.

Currently my interests are divided among several areas that are similar to those of my colleague and collaborator John Disterhoft. These include examining interactions between the prefrontal cortex and thalamus and the effects of hippocampal-cerebellar interactions during learning and aging, pharmacological facilitation of learning in aging subjects, imaging of the learning pathways with fMRI, and using eyeblink conditioning in mice to characterize different knockout and transgenic animals.  I am also the Director of the Northwestern University Behavioral Phenotyping Core (NU BPC) which exists to help others screen their mice or rats for behavioral changes due to aging or treatments such as genetic or pharmacological manipulations.


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