Dr. Denise Cai

Dr. Denise Cai


Obtained degreeInstitutionSupervisor/Lab
Focus of work
Ebbe Ebbesen, PhD
Computational modeling of rape and assault trials
Sara Mednick, PhD; Stephan Anagnostaras, PhD; Michael Gorman
Sleep-dependent memory consolidation in humans and mice



Focus of work
Alcino Silva, PhD
Temporal memory-linking and development of open-source tools

Talk title: The brain in motion: How ensemble fluidity drives memory-updating and flexibility

Creating stable memories is critical for survival. An animal relies on past learning to navigate its environment, avoid dangerous situations, and find needed resources. Because the environment is dynamic, stable memories must be updated with new information to enable responses to changing threats (a specific danger) and rewards (such as food and water). The brain circuits involved in memory and learning require both stability and flexibility. Using in vivo calcium imaging, immediate-early gene tagging, and chemogenetics, we demonstrate how the dynamic activity of neural ensembles supports the “tug of war” between memory stability and flexibility in a mouse model.

About Dr. Denise Cai:

The goal of Dr. Denise Cai’s research is to understand how memories are stored and updated across time and experience. She investigates the neural mechanisms governing these complex processes with a multi-level approach, combining cellular, systems, and behavioral techniques.

In a first line of inquiry, they are building on their novel characterization of the role of intrinsic neuronal excitability in the linking of memories across time in young and older mice (Cai et al., Nature, 2016). In collaboration with Sara Mednick, PhD, they also showed the first human behavioral evidence for temporal memory-linking (Yetton et al., Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2019). Memory-linking is particularly important in the context of such disorders as PTSD, as alterations in memory-linking could have severe consequences for cognition. The Cai lab recently published three papers on related themes (Mau et al., eLife, 2020; Sweis et al., Current Opinion in Neurobiology; Chen L, et al., 2020 Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 2020). An associated line of inquiry explores the how memories are stabilized and integrated with past experiences during sleep.

In a second line of investigation, they are exploring the mechanisms by which the brain optimizes its capacity to store information across a lifetime. These studies are supported by an NIH Director Innovator’s Award.

Dr. Cia’s lab also develops and disseminates open-source neurotechnology. She is one of the primary developers of the open-source Miniscopes for in vivo calcium imaging (Cai et al., Nature, 2016; Shuman et al., 2020). They recently published a pipeline for behavior tracking (ezTrack) and a miniscope analysis pipeline (Pennington et al., Science Reports, 2019; Dong, et al., bioRxiv, 2021, Pennington et al., Current Protocols, in press). In collaboration with others at Mount Sinai and other institutions, they continue to develop new imaging tools and related software to be openly shared with the larger neuroscience community.