Keith B. Hengen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Neurosciences Program
Computational and Systems Biology Program
Molecular Cell Biology Program

  • 314 935-4711

  • 1137

  • Monsanto Laboratory, Dept. of Biology, One Brookings Drive




  • Homeostatic plasticity, behavior, disease, self-organization, emergence, learning, computational

  • We take a "big data" approach to understanding the self-organization of neurons and networks in behaving animals.

Research Abstract:

The core question guiding the work in my lab is simple: how do modifiable neural networks give rise to reliable, complex behaviors for months to years? Bluntly, you will never mistake a pencil for a croissant. You`ll never simply forget how to walk, nor will you be unable to recognize your home and family (short of disease, but that`s kind of the point). Arguably, the core task of the CNS is reliably generating functions such as behavior and memory. We are creating and deploying new technologies to reveal how the same neurons participate in complex networks to produce natural behaviors and brain states over meaningful periods of time; months to years. We are interested in the interactions of behavior, network dynamics, and molecular mechanisms of plasticity. Together, these give rise to self-organizing systems with an amazing capacity to be both robust and alterable.

Selected Publications:

Hengen KB, Torrado Pacheco A, McGregor JN, Van Hooser SD, Turrigiano GG (2016). Neuronal firing rate homeostasis is inhibited by sleep and promoted by wake. Cell, 2016 Mar 24;165(1):180-91.

Hengen KB, Nelson NR, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Smith SM, Watters JJ, Mitchell GS, Behan M (2015). Daily isoflurane exposure increases barbiturate insensitivity in medullary respiratory and cortical neurons via expression of ε-subunit containing GABAARs. PLoS ONE, 10(3):e0119351. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119351.

Hengen KB, Lambo ME, Van Hooser SD, Katz DB, Turrigiano GG (2013). Firing rate homeostasis in visual cortex of freely behaving rodents. Neuron 80(2):335-42.

Hengen KB, Nelson NR, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Crader SM, Watters JJ, Behan M (2012). Increased GABAA­­­ Receptor ε-Subunit Expression on Ventral Respiratory Column Neurons Protects Breathing during Pregnancy. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30608. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030608

Hengen KB, Gomez TM, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Behan M (2011). Changes in ventral respiratory column GABAA e and d subunits during hibernation mediate resistance to depression by ETOH and pentobarbital. Am J Physiol Regul Integ Comp Physiol. 300:R272-R283.

Hengen KB, Behan M, Carey HV, Jones MV, Johnson SM (2009). Hibernation induces pentobarbital insensitivity in medulla but not cortex. Am J Physiol Regul Integ Comp Physiol. 297: R1028–R1036.

Last Updated: 8/8/2018 10:22:42 AM

Cortical neurons (left) are responsible for complex phenomena, from vision to movement to introspection. In order to begin understanding the processing rules that make these phenomena possible, we use extracellular recordings and other techniques to follow the activity of many cells in the brains of freely behaving animals. (right) In vivo recordings generate large datasets that are best approached algorithmically. Depicted is an example of high dimensional clustering, a computational approach to sorting large datasets into separable groups, each of which may represent an individual neuron. The times of these spikes can then be related to those of other neurons, stimuli, internal events, and to animal behavior.
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