Brain scans show how different factors can influence obesity in men and women

Understanding the differences, researchers say, could have implications for more targeted approaches to weight loss.

Click here to read the article

Thursday, April 6, 2023


Got junk food on the brain? These cells may be to blame

CSHL Professor Bo Li has discovered a group of neurons, shown here in green, in the brain’s amygdala that drive mice to eat even when they’re not hungry. The neurons activate in response to fatty and sugary foods and trigger a behavior called hedonic eating—when mice eat for pleasure instead of survival.

Click here to read the article

Thursday, October 20, 2022


Mingzhe Liu joins the Li lab as a postdoctoral fellow.  Welcome Mingzhe!!

Monday, October 3, 2022


Ann Lien successfully defended her PhD thesis.  Congratulations Dr. Bouhuis!!

Wednesday , January 19 2022


Aleksander Kaplan joined our lab as a postdoctoral fellow. Welcome Alex!!

Tuesday , January  18 2022


A genetically defined insula-brainstem circuit selectively controls motivational vigor

Thursday , December 9 2021

Hanfei and Xiong’s paper on a motivation circuit published in Cell.

ABSTRACT:  The anterior insular cortex (aIC) plays a critical role in cognitive and motivational control of behavior, but the underlying neural mechanism remains elusive. Here, we show that aIC neurons expressing Fezf2 (aICFezf2), which are the pyramidal tract neurons, signal motivational vigor and invigorate need-seeking behavior through projections to the brainstem nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS). aICFezf2 neurons and their postsynaptic NTS neurons acquire anticipatory activity through learning, which encodes the perceived value and the vigor of actions to pursue homeostatic needs. Correspondingly, aIC → NTS circuit activity controls vigor, effort, and striatal dopamine release but only if the action is learned and the outcome is needed. Notably, aICFezf2 neurons do not represent taste or valence. Moreover, aIC → NTS activity neither drives reinforcement nor influences total consumption. These results pinpoint specific functions of aIC → NTS circuit for selectively controlling motivational vigor and suggest that motivation is subserved, in part, by aIC’s top-down regulation of dopamine signaling

Click here to read the arcicle.


Danielle van de Lisdonk joined the lab for her PhD study.  Welcome Danielle!

Monday, November 15, 2021


Genetically identified amygdala–striatal circuits for valence-specific behaviors

Monday, October 18, 2021:

Xian’s paper on hard-wired valence-specific neurons in the basolateral amygdala published in Nature Neuroscience. Click here to read the article, and here for a “News & Views” on this article.

ABSTRACT: The basolateral amygdala (BLA) plays essential roles in behaviors motivated by stimuli with either positive or negative valence, but how it processes motivationally opposing information and participates in establishing valence-specific behaviors remains unclear. Here, by targeting Fezf2-expressing neurons in the BLA, we identify and characterize two functionally distinct classes in behaving mice, the negative-valence neurons and positive-valence neurons, which innately represent aversive and rewarding stimuli, respectively, and through learning acquire predictive responses that are essential for punishment avoidance or reward seeking. Notably, these two classes of neurons receive inputs from separate sets of sensory and limbic areas, and convey punishment and reward information through projections to the nucleus accumbens and olfactory tubercle, respectively, to drive negative and positive reinforcement. Thus, valence-specific  BLA neurons are wired with distinctive input-output structures, forming a circuit framework that supports the roles of the BLA in encoding, learning and executing valence-specific motivated behaviors.

NIH BRAIN Initiative invests $9.7 million in CSHL scientists

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

The National Institute of Health (NIH) Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative awarded a total of $9.7 million in new grants to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) professors, a senior fellow, and a visiting scientist. Started in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative funds innovative neuroscience projects. The goal is to better treat, prevent, and cure neurological disorders. Read More: NIH BRAIN Initiative invests $9.7 million in CSHL scientists


Bo Li and Richard Sever present at “Life Science Across the Globe”

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

On October 28th, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) participated in the weekly seminar series “Life Science Across the Globe”. CSHL, along with five other institutions around the world, presented both science and science culture talks to a global audience via video conference.

CSHL Professor and HHMI Investigator Leemor Joshua-Tor welcomed the digital attendees and introduced Professor Bo Li and Assistant Director of CSHL Press Richard Sever. Li spoke about his latest research on how both positive and negative reinforcement take similar pathways in the brain. Sever, who is the co-founder of the preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv, spoke about how these servers help researchers communicate findings faster, allowing other experts in the field to begin building on the work immediately.  Read More:  Bo Li and Richard Sever present at “Life Science Across the Globe”

How does the brain process fear?

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

When a frightful creature startles you, your brain may activate its fear-processing circuitry, sending your heart racing to help you escape the threat. It’s also the job of the brain’s fear-processing circuits to help you learn from experience to recognize which situations are truly dangerous and to respond appropriately—so if the scare comes from a costumed goblin, you’ll probably recover quickly.  Read More: How does the brain process fear?

The motivation center of the mouse brain in 3D

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A 3D-model of the mouse brain (gray) showing the dorsal striatum (green), which includes the striosome. CSHL researchers discovered that the striosome is a complex motivation center, involved with signaling reward or punishment during learning tasks. Model: Allen Brain Atlas, Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas,  Read the related story: Reward and punishment take similar paths in the mouse brain

Reward and punishment take similar paths in the mouse brain

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) scientists have discovered neurons in the mouse brain that help an animal learn to avoid negative experiences. The cells reside in a part of the brain involved in regulating the motivations that influence behavior.

Previously, this part of the brain, known as the striosome, was thought to be dedicated to supporting our ability to learn from positive reinforcement and seek out rewards. The discovery that some neurons in this same structure contribute to negative-reinforcement learning reveals the striosome to be a complex motivation-processing hub. Understanding its function is critical, says Bo Li, the CSHL professor who led the study, because motivation processing is impaired in people with certain mental illnesses.  Read more: Reward and punishment take similar paths in the mouse brain

How the brain balances pleasure and pain

 Tuesday, December 31, 2019

As our brains take in information about the world and use it to steer our actions, two key principles guide our choices: seek pleasure and avoid pain. Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have zeroed in on an information-processing hub in the brains of mice to discover how neurons there divide the labor to handle these opposing behavioral motivations.

Their work, reported December 31, 2019 in the journal Neuron, reveals that different classes of neurons control positive and negative motivation, sending opposing signals along a shared motivation-processing brain circuit. Ultimately, the balance of activity between these two groups of cells may determine whether a person acts to seek out pleasurable experiences or avoid negative ones, says CSHL Professor Bo Li, who led the study. Read more: Reward and punishment take similar paths in the mouse brain

CSHL postdocs receive NARSAD Young Investigator Grants

 Wednesday, October30, 2019

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Roman Dvorkin, Ph.D., and Xian Zhang, Ph.D., were recently selected by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to each receive a 2019 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant (pdf).

The grants, which support young scientists conducting neurobiological and psychiatric research, provide promising investigators with up to $70,000 over two years to help them extend their research fellowship training or begin careers as independent research faculty. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation awarded the first NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 1987  Read more: CSHL postdocs receive NARSAD Young Investigator Grants

Interview with a neuroscientist

 Friday, May 31, 2019

Comprised of a M.C. Escher-esque network of pathways, the brain is a maze of chaotic proportions. In its full-functioning glory, the brain helps us move, think, dream, and create. It’s a beautiful marvel of evolution that coordinates and translates messages from cells into emotions, memories, and actions.

But what happens in the brain when its complex circuitry is interrupted or malfunctions? When there is a kink in the machinery of cognition? That’s the holy grail that many neuroscientists, like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Professor Bo Li, continue to pursue  Read more: Interview with a neuroscientist

How the brain hears and fears

 Friday, December 2 2018

How is it that a sound can send a chill down your spine? By observing individual brain cells of mice, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) are understanding how a sound can incite fear.

Investigator Bo Li focuses on a part of the mouse brain called the amygdala where sights, sounds, and other stimuli take on positive or negative associations through experience. The continuous process of learning and unlearning that occurs in the amygdala appears impaired in people with anxiety disorders or major depression. Understanding brain cell, or neuron activity in the amygdala could result in better treatments.

Read more: How the brain hears and fears

Researchers Uncover Brain Circuit That Helps Us Evaluate Our Actions

 Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An area of the forebrain called the basal ganglia helps people to decide which actions to take—should I eat this apple?—and whether the action had a good (the apple was tasty) or bad (the apple was rotten) outcome. Scientists working with mice have now located a distinct group of neurons within the basal ganglia where these outcomes are evaluated, which could have implications for understanding some of the brain circuitry involved in depression.

Read more: Brain & Behavior

WSBS Teaching Award for 2015 for Bo Li

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Watson School treasures its teachers. When our students do great and amazing things, as they often do, there’s some part of that greatness and amazingness that we attribute to their teachers—the brave and hearty souls who trudge through suffix arrays, hairy eyeball suppressor screens, and the Nernst equation with the first-year students. But we’re not the only ones who think the WSBS teachers are pretty great. Students like them, too.  Students even think there are outstanding teachers at the Watson School. So, for the past nine years, we have honored the year’s most exceptional teacher with the Winship Herr Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Read more: WSBS Teaching Award for Bo Li