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Michael Yassa - UC Irvine. Irvine, CA, US

Michael Yassa Michael Yassa

Professor and Chancellor’s Fellow | UC Irvine


Michael Yassa is interested in how learning and memory mechanisms are altered in aging and neuropsychiatric disease.





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The discriminating brain | Michael Yassa | TEDxUCIrvine Speaker Michael Yassa UCI Brain Launch Event - Introduction on Nov. 21, 2019




Michael Yassa's laboratory is interested in how the brain learns and remembers information, and how learning and memory mechanisms are altered in aging and neuropsychiatric disease. The central questions in their research are:

What are the neural mechanisms that support learning and memory?
How are memory circuits and pathways altered in the course of aging, dementia, and neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety?
How can we identify early preclinical biomarkers that can distinguish between normal and pathological neurocognitive changes so that we can better design diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

To address these questions, Yassa develops and refines cognitive assessment tools that specifically target memory processes and computations, such as pattern separation. Yassa's lab also develops, optimizes, and uses a host of advanced brain measurement techniques including high-resolution structural, functional, and diffusion MRI, PET, EEG, and intracranial recordings (ECoG) in patients, to explore the brain’s architecture at very fine levels of detail.

Yassa's lab combines these approaches with more traditional psychophysics including measurements of galvanic skin response (skin conductance), heart rate variability, and eye tracking. They are also working with collaborators to develop novel platforms for cellular resolution functional imaging in awake, behaving animals using novel MRI tracers. Finally, we are actively developing and testing several pharmacological and nonpharmacological cognitive enhancement interventions in older adults at risk for dementia, including studies of physical exercise.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Neurobiology and Behavior

Aging and Alzheimer's Disease

Memory and Disease


Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Accomplishments (4)

Ossoff Scholars Award in Cognitive Disorders Research (professional)

2011 Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Roger W. Russell Scholar’s Award in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (professional)

2010 Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Carl W. Cotman Scholar’s Award in the Neurobiology of Neurological Disorders (professional)

2010 MIND Institute, University of California, Irvine

Fine Science Tools Travel Award in Neuroscience (professional)

2010 University of California, Irvine

Education (3)

UC Irvine: PhD, Neurobiology and Behavior 2010

The Johns Hopkins University: MA, Psychological and Brain Sciences 2007

The Johns Hopkins University: BA, Neuroscience 2002

Affiliations (3)

  • American Psychological Association
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  • International Neuropsychological Society

Media Appearances (9)

Walking For Just 10 Minutes Improves Brain Performance

MSN Health  online


The neurological study was by researchers with the U.C. Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the University of Tsukuba, located in Japan.

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Beyond Brain Fog: What the Pandemic Has Done to Our Memory

Katie Couric Media  online


Richness and diversity of experience are also just generally good for brain health, says Michael Yassa, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine.

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Doing This for Just 10 Minutes Daily Can Boost Your Memory, Study Says

Best Life  online


This insight could have major implications for aging populations. "The hippocampus is critical for the creation of new memories; it's one of the first regions of the brain to deteriorate as we get older—and much more severely in Alzheimer's disease," Michael Yassa, the study's co-author and UCI professor, said via Science Daily. "Improving the function of the hippocampus holds much promise for improving memory in everyday settings."

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Walking for just 10 minutes improves brain performance

Buffalo News  online


The neurological study was by researchers with the U.C. Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the University of Tsukuba, located in Japan.

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UCI poised to advance depression research following $55-million gift to establish center

Daily Pilot  online


“A gift of this magnitude is transformative, to say the least. It can really catapult our research in a positive direction. ” — Professor Michael Yassa

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What Can Wordle Do for Our Brains?

WebMD  online


Michael Yassa, PhD, professor and director of the center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine, began playing Wordle in January. "It activates our dopamine," he says. That's the neurotransmitter linked with feeling pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. "That can color your day in a positive way,” he says. Playing the game also gets your problem-solving skills going, Yassa says.

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What Memories Are Made Of

Chasing Life (CNN)  online


Our memories are imperfect treasures – dear to our hearts but not necessarily accurate snapshots of reality. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to neurobiologist Michael Yassa about how memories are stored in the brain, why we forget, and what we’ve gotten wrong about how it’s supposed to work.

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Working Memory

WHYY  online


Michael Yassa, professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine, explains what we know about how memories are stored and accessed in our brains.

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A new way by which the human brain marks time

Science Daily  online


Michael Yassa, director of UCI's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory and senior author on the study, said the research may further understanding of dementia, as these temporal memory regions are the first to experience age-related deficits and also show some of the first pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, most notably tangles.

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Articles (5)

Associations between pattern separation and hippocampal subfield structure and function vary along the lifespan: A 7 T imaging study

Scientific Reports

Joost M. Riphagen, Lisa Schmiedek, Ed H. B. M. Gronenschild, Michael A. Yassa, Nikos Priovoulos, Alexander T. Sack, Frans R. J. Verhey & Heidi I. L. Jacobs

2020 Pattern separation (PS) describes the process by which the brain discriminates similar stimuli from previously encoded stimuli. This fundamental process requires the intact processing by specific subfields in the hippocampus and can be examined using mnemonic discrimination tasks. Previous studies reported different patterns for younger and older individuals between mnemonic discrimination performance and hippocampal subfield activation.

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1100 Self-Monitoring Of PVT Performance In Healthy Adults And Individuals With MDD


O Galli, N Goel, M Basner, J Detre, M Thase, Y Sheline, H Rao, D Dinges, P Gehrman

2020 Negativity bias in depression has been repeatedly demonstrated in the judgment and decision-making literature. Research investigating the impact of sleep deprivation on self-evaluation of performance in healthy or depressed populations is limited. We examined 1) whether individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) exhibit a negativity bias in subjective ratings of performance on the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT) as compared with healthy adults, and 2) the impact of total sleep deprivation (TSD) on these ratings.

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Pattern Separation and Source Memory Engage Distinct Hippocampal and Neocortical Regions during Retrieval

Journal of Neuroscience

Rebecca F. Stevenson, Zachariah M. Reagh, Amanda P. Chun, Elizabeth A. Murray and Michael A. Yassa

2020 Detailed representations of past events rely on the ability to form associations between items and their contextual features (i.e., source memory), as well as the ability to distinctly represent a new event from a similar one stored in memory (i.e., pattern separation). These processes are both known to engage the hippocampus, although whether they share similar mechanisms remains unclear. It is also unknown if, and in which region(s), activity related to these processes overlaps and/or interacts.

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Down syndrome: Distribution of brain amyloid in mild cognitive impairment

Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring

David B Keator, Michael J Phelan, Lisa Taylor, Eric Doran, Sharon Krinsky‐McHale, Julie Price, Erin E Ballard, William C Kreisl, Christy Hom, Dana Nguyen, Margaret Pulsifer, Florence Lai, Diana H Rosas, Adam M Brickman, Nicole Schupf, Michael A Yassa, Wayne Silverman, Ira T Lott

2020 Down syndrome (DS) is associated with a higher risk of dementia. We hypothesize that amyloid beta (Aβ) in specific brain regions differentiates mild cognitive impairment in DS (MCI‐DS) and test these hypotheses using cross‐sectional and longitudinal data.

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CA1 20-40 Hz oscillatory dynamics reflect trial-specific information processing supporting nonspatial sequence memory


Sandra Gattas, Gabriel A. Elias, Michael A. Yassa, Norbert J. Fortin

2020 The hippocampus is known to play a critical role in processing information about temporal context. However, it remains unclear how hippocampal oscillations are involved, and how their functional organization is influenced by connectivity gradients. We examined local field potential activity in CA1 as rats performed a complex odor sequence memory task. We find that odor sequence processing epochs were characterized by increased power in the 4-8 Hz and 20-40 Hz range, with 20-40 Hz oscillations showing a power gradient increasing toward proximal CA1.

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