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Alison Barth - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

Alison Barth

Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


Alison Barth's work focuses on understanding how experience transforms the properties of neurons to encode memory.


Alison Barth studies plasticity in neurons. Her work focuses on understanding how experience transforms the properties of neurons to encode memory. Barth developed and patented the first tool to locate and characterize neurons activated by experience in a living animal, a transgenic mouse called the "fosGFP" mouse. These mice, which have been licensed to every major pharmaceutical company in the United States and distributed to more than 80 researchers worldwide, have facilitated studies into a wide range of neurological diseases as well as the study of learning and memory. Barth also conducts research on epilepsy. Her lab has identified a novel anticonvulsant target, an ion channel called the BK channel, whose activity is increased in response to a seizure. Barth has received the Society for Neuroscience’s Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience and Career Development Award.

Areas of Expertise (4)

Research Design

Neural Plasticity



Media Appearances (5)

How synaptic pruning shapes neural wiring during development and, possibly, in disease

PNAS  online


At first, it might seem inefficient to create an excess of connections only to remove many of them later, says Alison Barth, a neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. In fact, computational biology suggests that selective pruning optimizes the brain’s circuits. In 2015, Barth and her colleagues used simulated neural networks to look at how synapse removal shapes network structure and function, comparing different rates and timing of elimination (3). Patterns like those measured in mouse and human brains—an initial period of rapid, aggressive elimination, followed by a slower decline—improved the capacity of the resulting network to carry information. “Networks that are constructed through overabundance and then pruning are much more robust and efficient than networks that are constructed through other means,” Barth says. “Evolution has selected for [these] properties of network construction,” a process she calls “incredibly beautiful.”

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Neuroscientists map brain's response to cold touch

ScienceDaily  online


"Touch is, by nature, multi-modal. When you pick something up, it can be warm, smooth and heavy all at once. Your brain divides that touch into all of these different percepts. Understanding how it does this can show us how the brain adapts and learns in response to touch and how changes in these pathways can cause pain and disease," said Alison Barth, professor of biological sciences in the Mellon College of Science and member of the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Basis of Neural Cognition.

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This breakthrough could help scientists see exactly how depression, Alzheimer's, and autism transform our brains

Business Insider  online


"This is really interesting," said Alison Barth, a researcher and professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies the brain. Barth says that previously, we haven't been able to see how synapses are changing in people's brains over time, and that this looks like it could allow us to do a study where we track those changes.

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Alison Barth Named Interim Director of BrainHub

Carnegie Mellon University Biological Sciences News  online


Carnegie Mellon University has named Alison Barth interim director of BrainHub. Barth, professor of biological sciences, is a leader in the field of synaptic plasticity who has helped to shape the global field of neuroscience through innovations created in her lab. As interim director of BrainHub, she will lead the university’s interdisciplinary neuroscience research initiative and help direct the search for a permanent director.

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Alison Barth and Marcel Bruchez Awarded Kaufman Grant to Study Neural Communication in the Cerebral Cortex

Carnegie Mellon University Biological Sciences News  online


This year, Alison Barth, professor of biological sciences, and Marcel Bruchez, associate professor of biological sciences and chemistry, were grant recipients of The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, part of The Pittsburgh Foundation. In its second year as a grantmaking program, the foundation supports cutting-edge scientific research at institutions across Pennsylvania with annual award funding to new investigator and new initiative research.

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Dr. Alison Barth and The BRAIN Initiative® Alison Barth, Ph.D. BrainHub Interview: Alison Barth


Dr. Alison Barth on the brain's amazing ability to change and why she's learning to play the violin


Industry Expertise (2)



Accomplishments (3)

Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience (professional)

Society for Neuroscience

Career Development Award (professional)

Society for Neuroscience

Bessel Research Award (professional)

Humboldt Foundation

Education (3)

University of California, Berkeley: Ph.D., Molecular and Cell Biology 1997

Brown University: A.B., Biology 1991

Stanford University School of Medicine: Postdoctoral Appointment, Neurophysiology 2001

Articles (5)

Magnify is a universal molecular anchoring strategy for expansion microscopy

Nature Biotechnology

2023 Expansion microscopy enables nanoimaging with conventional microscopes by physically and isotropically magnifying preserved biological specimens embedded in a crosslinked water-swellable hydrogel. Current expansion microscopy protocols require prior treatment with reactive anchoring chemicals to link specific labels and biomolecule classes to the gel. We describe a strategy called Magnify, which uses a mechanically sturdy gel that retains nucleic acids, proteins and lipids without the need for a separate anchoring step.

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Nanoscale Imaging of Biomolecules Using Molecule Anchorable Gel-enabled Nanoscale In-situ Fluorescence Microscopy

Microscopy and Microanalysis

2022 A functional and integrative understanding of a biological system requires precise knowledge of the spatial arrangement of components across length scales, from tissue-level organization to individual biomolecules at the nanoscale. Unfortunately, most methods for nanoscale imaging require expensive hardware and extensive expertise. Researchers can circumvent these challenges by physically and isotropically magnifying preserved biological specimens embedded in a cross-linked water-swellable hydrogel, in a technique termed expansion microscopy.

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An automated homecage system for multiwhisker detection and discrimination learning in mice


2020 Automated, homecage behavioral training for rodents has many advantages: it is low stress, requires little interaction with the experimenter, and can be easily manipulated to adapt to different experimental conditions. We have developed an inexpensive, Arduino-based, homecage training apparatus for sensory association training in freely-moving mice using multiwhisker air current stimulation coupled to a water reward.

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BRAIN Initiative: Cutting-Edge Tools and Resources for the Community

Journal of Neuroscience

2019 The overarching goal of the NIH BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative is to advance the understanding of healthy and diseased brain circuit function through technological innovation. Core principles for this goal include the validation and dissemination of the myriad innovative technologies, tools, methods, and resources emerging from BRAIN-funded research. Innovators, BRAIN funding agencies, and non-Federal partners are working together to develop strategies for making these products usable, available, and accessible to the scientific community.

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Fluorescence-Based Quantitative Synapse Analysis for Cell Type-Specific Connectomics


2019 Anatomical methods for determining cell type-specific connectivity are essential to inspire and constrain our understanding of neural circuit function. We developed genetically-encoded reagents for fluorescence-synapse labeling and connectivity analysis in brain tissue, using a fluorogen-activating protein (FAP)-coupled or YFP-coupled, postsynaptically-localized neuroligin-1 (NL-1) targeting sequence (FAP/YFPpost). FAPpost expression did not alter mEPSC or mIPSC properties.

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