Bernardo Sabatini

Co-director of the Kempner Institute
Alice and Rodman W. Moorhead III Professor of Neurobiology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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KEMPNER GLOBAL COMMUNITY I speak: English, Spanish, French

Contact Information

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Bernardo Sabatini is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His laboratory focuses on understanding the function and regulation of synapses in the mammalian brain with a particular focus on the basal ganglia, an evolutionarily conserved brain region that controls many aspects of behavior and whose perturbation leads to devastating neuropsychiatric diseases. In order to conduct their studies, Dr. Sabatini’s laboratory creates new optical and chemical tools to observe and manipulate the biochemical signaling associated with synapse function. 

Dr. Sabatini obtained a PhD from the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and his MD from the Harvard University/MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology in 1999.  After completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Karel Svoboda at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, Dr. Sabatini joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 2001.  In 2008 Dr. Sabatini was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in 2010 the Takeda Professor of Neurobiology, and in 2014 the Alice and Rodman W. Moorhead III Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.  He is a member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Focus

Dr. Sabatini’s current research focuses on action selection, neural plasticity, and learning. The Sabatini Lab studies how brain plasticity and computation allow animals to adapt to changing contexts.  In particular, the Lab studies the processes of action selection (choosing what to do), evaluation (deciding if the outcome was good or bad), and plan updating (should something different be done in the future). These processes depend on evolutionarily old and phylogenetically old parts of the brain that, when perturbed, have profound effects on human behavior. Motivated by biological studies, Sabatini seeks to understand what features of natural brains and nervous systems endow animals with such facility to learn and understand their environments.  He hopes to identify features of brain cells and circuits that, when incorporated into artificial systems, endow them with new capabilities.  Conversely, the Sabatini Lab will work with computer scientists and mathematicians to develop methods to test if theories used to explain how artificial neural networks learn apply to the brain.