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
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
UC Irvine: PhD, Neurobiology and Behavior 2010
The Johns Hopkins University: MA, Psychological and Brain Sciences 2007
The Johns Hopkins University: BA, Neuroscience 2002
- American Psychological Association
- Cognitive Neuroscience Society
- International Neuropsychological Society
Media Appearances (5)
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.
Exploring humanity’s final frontier
UCI News online
More than 700 attended the day-long symposium at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences & Engineering, where Michael Yassa, director of UCI Brain, introduced a host of new technologies that redefine brain research, including a collaboration with the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. The evening brought a fireside chat, in which leading neuroscientists from varying disciplines answered questions from the public discussing how far the frontiers of interdisciplinary brain research extend, and what the impact of that reach will be.
Should doctors write prescriptions for exercise?
University of California online
Michael Yassa, UC Irvine Chancellor’s Fellow and professor of neurobiology & behavior, is known for his on-the-move meetings. Exercise is so important to health and cognition that the director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory and his students tackle agendas while making a loop of the campus or heading for coffee.
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.
Now you just need to remember to exercise!
University of California online
Even short walking breaks throughout the day may have considerable effects on improving memory and cognition, says study co-leader Michael Yassa, UCI professor and Chancellors Fellow of neurobiology & behavior.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.