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John Gabrieli is the director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Imaging Center at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. He is an Investigator at the Institute, with faculty appointments in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, where he holds the Grover Hermann Professorship. He also co-directs the MIT Clinical Research Center and is Associate Director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH/MIT, located at Massachusetts General Hospital. Prior to joining MIT, he spent 14 years at Stanford University in the Department of Psychology and Neurosciences Program. Since 1990, he has served as Visiting Professor, Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital and Rush Medical College. He received a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience in the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in 1987 and B.A. in English from Yale University in 1978.
Images of mind
John Gabrieli’s goal is to understand the organization of memory, thought, and emotion in the human brain. By combining brain imaging with behavioral tests, he studies the neural basis of these abilities in human subjects. In collaboration with clinical colleagues, Gabrieli also seeks to understand the brain abormalities that underlie neurological and psychiatric disease.
In search of memory
A central theme of Gabrieli’s research is memory in its different forms: the short-term recall that allows us to dial a phone number, our long-term memory of events and places, and the emotional associations that often color our factual memories. These different types of memory are mediated by different brain systems, and Gabrieli seeks to tease these systems apart and understand how they interact to shape our overall sense of the past.
Memory declines in old age, especially with Alzheimer’s disease. One aim of Gabrieli’s current research is to predict from brain scans who will develop Alzheimer’s disease and when they will develop it — an important goal for guiding treatment and for testing the effectiveness of new drugs.
At the other end of life, Gabrieli studies how memory emerges during childhood. As brain imaging technology improves, it becomes possible to scan children at ever younger ages. This will open the door to many new questions about normal human development as well as developmental disorders such as dyslexia or autism. In fact, Gabrieli will head an ambitious new project to study the origins of dyslexia, supported by a grant from the Ellison Medical Foundation.
The origins of psychiatric disease
Neuroimaging can also provide new insights into psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Gabrieli has collaborated with colleagues at McLean Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital to examine abnormal patterns of activity in the brains of psychiatric patients. In the future he plans to combine neuroimaging with genetic studies to understand how genes and environmental factors interact within the brain to produce psychiatric disease.