The neuroscience community includes many world-class neurobiologists who, together,  generate more research funding than any other group of neuroscientists in the country.. Amongst them are two Nobel prize winners, Eric Kandel (2000) and Richard Axel (2004), eleven Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, eight members  of the National Academy of Sciences, thirteen members of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one president of the Society for Neuroscience  and a former director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and  Stroke. The textbook Principles of Neural Science, co-authored by Columbia faculty, is the most widely used neuroscience text in the world. 

The New York State Psychiatric Institute, home to clinical and basic research by members of Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry, is one of the most renowned research institutions in the land. The Neurological Institute, which houses the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery has a long and distinguished history.  Beyond the traditional Departments, Columbia is home to many Institutes and Centers that have specific missions related to various subfields of clinical and basic neural science.  These Institutes and Centers have brought scientists together from across the University to focus on particular areas of interest. As we move forward to an even more integrated, thematic effort in neuroscience we will take advantage of these strong programs, and we will make them stronger.

Our goal for the future is to integrate preclinical and clinical neuroscience and to bridge the gap between molecular neurobiology and cognitive neuroscience  to rapidly take advantage of new scientific opportunities and maximize existing investments. All of neuroscience will benefit.

A Rich Past, a Bold Future

In 2004, as part of Columbia’s 250th anniversary celebrations, Columbia President Lee Bollinger formally launched a University-wide initiative in Mind, Brain and Behavior at a major symposium on this topic. Since then, he has earmarked funds to support research and recruitment in neurocircuitry and we have begun the process of creating the University’s first Department of Neurosciences.

While Columbia has launched a number of important initiatives in the past few years - and months, with the announcement of the new science center - it already had strong fundamentals in brain science research, extending back to 1974, when the University recruited Eric Kandel to found and direct the Division of Neurobiology and Behavior. At Columbia as elsewhere, a pivotal moment in the development of the discipline occurred in the early 1970s, when many neuroscientists came to perceive the effectiveness of taking an integrated approach to the study of the brain by combining molecular and system-based analyses of neural circuits. Under Kandel’s leadership, Columbia became one of the first universities to assemble, in neighboring laboratories, a team of investigators from various disciplines to further researchon the neurobiology of behavior at the cellular, molecular and systems levels, with an emphasis on combining empirical and theoretical approaches in pursuit of a common goal. In 1980 the division was enlarged to form the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which grew rapidly in size and scope. 

One measure of the degree to which neurobiology has flourished at Columbia is the University’s decision to set up the Center for Neuroscience Initiatives, an organizing arm for current efforts and for developing and implementing new programs.  Another measure is the number of cutting-edge contributions Columbia re-searchers have made to the field.

Future plans include the establishment of the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, a new state-of-the-art Science facility that will be the cornerstone of many of the new programs and additional centers that expand translational neuroscience at Columbia.

Neuroscience at Columbia - a Timeline of Discovery Beginnings

The Neurological Institute; the first neurological hospital in the United States dedicated exclusively to the treatment of the nervous system is founded in 1909 on the upper east side of Manhattan.  Dr. Charles A. Elsberg, a pioneer in surgical technique and the first director of the Institute, launches the first Neurosurgery Service at the Institute and, in 1911, the University offers its first postgraduate courses for neurological nurses.  At the request of the surgeon general, Dr. Elsberg and his staff train 200 neurological surgeons at the New York Neurosurgical School for U.S. Army Medical Officers during World War One. 


In 1927, having outgrown the 67th street facility, the Neuroscience Institute  accepts an invitation to move to Washington Heights as an affiliate of the newly  formed Columbia University Medical Center; the first such academic medical center  in the United States.  The Center officially opens in March 1929.  Dr. Elsberg continues to break new ground in neurological surgery and becomes the first surgeon to successfully remove a herniated intervertebral disc.  He  and his colleagues, Harvey Cushing of Boston and Charles Frazier of Philadelphia  form the Society of Neurological Surgeons


In 1933 the Institute appoints Dr. Bernard Sachs as chief of the institute’s Pediatric Neurology Service and in 1937 the Institute merges with Presbyterian Hospital.  In 1938, Institute faculty member, Dr. Tracy Putnam and future Institute chairman Dr. H. Houston Merritt discover diphenylhydantoin (Dilantin®); one of the first anticonvulsant medications to be used in the treatment of seizure disorders and still widely in use today. 

Dr. Paul F.A. Hoefer launches one of the first electroencephalography (EEG) laboratories in the United States to study the diagnostic value of brain waves.  Dr. Cornelius Dyke becomes the first full time radiologist at the Institute.  He and his associates pioneered the development of neuroradiology as an independent field.


Drs. KC Cole, Howard Curtis, and David Goldman publish ground breaking studies on mechanisms of membrane excitability.  H. Houston Merritt, MD, a founding father of modern neurology and one of the most celebrated clinical neurologists of the 20 century, becomes Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Columbia and Director of Neurological Services at the Institute in 1948. In 1949, Dr. Dominic Purpura establishes the first laboratory for basic neuroscience research. 


Dr. Juan Taveras establishes the first training program in neuroradiology.  Dr. Merritt's influential Textbook of Neurology is published in 1955. Now in its 10th edition, it is still one of the field's leading texts for medical students and residents. Dr. Merritt becomes Dean of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  In 1958, Dr. J. Lawrence Pool is the first neurosurgeon to use the operating microscope to perform aneurysm surgery- drastically reducing the mortality rates.  Dr.Sidney Carter, chief of pediatric neurology, leads the establishment of childneurology as a recognized sub specialty in the U.S. 


The Neurological Intensive Care Unit is established: one of the earliest neuromedical facilities in the country.  In 1965, the first training program in child neurology is established under the direction of Dr. Carter, and he receives the first NIH Pediatric Neurology Training Grant. Dr. Carter is instrumental in establishing certification in pediatric neurology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. 

The Neurological Institute of New York, The New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center becomes headquarters for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, founded by Mr. William Black. 

In 1968, Dr. Sadek Hilal develops "embolization;" a way to treat malformations of blood vessels in the brain by injecting substances to occlude them. This innovative technique is the first step in developing the field of "interventional radiology."   Dr.Hilal is considered to be one of the most influential researchers in imaging science and radiology during the past fifty years.


Neuroscience begins to emerge as a distinct discipline with far reaching implications into biology, psychology, psychiatry.  In response, Columbia is one of the first universities to develop an integrated neurobiology program for research and graduate training. 

In 1974 Dr. Eric Kandel joins Columbia and continues his previous work researching the mechanisms of long and short-term memory.  He demonstrates that synaptic changes are related to learning and memory storage in Aplysia. Dr. Lewis P. Rowland, having begun his Columbia career as a resident in 1950, obtains the first NIH Training Grant to support development of neurological clinician scientists.  Investigators of movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, first use botulinum toxin to prevent involuntary movements.  In 1973, Dr. Lewis P. Rowland is named Chairman of Neurology at Columbia and Director of the Neurological Service. In 1975, the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior is established under the leadership of Dr. Eric Kandel. 


Dr. Bennett M. Stein is named Chairman of Neurology at Columbia and Director of the Neurological Service.  

The Howard Hughes Legacy at Columbia: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, widely known in medical research circles as HHMI, funds medical research at the nation’s top medical schools. HHMI supports two programs at Columbia; the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program in Molecular Neurobiology (headed by Nobel laureate and University Professor Eric Kandel) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program in Structural Biology (led by Wayne Hendrickson, also a prestigious University Professor, and several other Columbia-HHMI investigators).  The molecular neurobiology program began in 1984, the structural biology program in 1986.

In 1988, Drs. Salvatore Di Mauro and Eric Schon, working in the H. Houston Merritt Center for Neuromuscular Research, first link deletions of mitochondrial DNA to a specific clinical syndrome affecting the brain, eyes, and muscle, opening up a new human genetic pattern called maternal inheritance. In 1989 Drs. Stanley Fahn, Robert Burke, Susan Bressman and their team localize the gene for one form of dystonia to chromosome 9q. The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is established under the direction of Dr. Timothy A. Pedley; one of the first recognized by New York State. 


In 1990 U.S. President George Bush declares the decade starting in 1990 the "Decade of the Brain"

Drs. Richard Axel and Linda Buck discover that the olfactory receptor family consists of over 1000 different genes. Dr. Robert A. Solomon pioneers deep hypothermic cardiac arrest to improve surgery for cerebral aneurysms, a common cause of brain hemorrhage, and doubles the number of functional survivors. Dr.Nancy Wexler and her team are the first to map the gene for Huntington's disease.

Clinical neurogeneticists at Columbia are the first to map genes for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), levodopa-responsive dystonia, Wilson's disease, and a newly-recognized form of familial frontotemporal dementia.

In 1994 Columbia installs a 25-ton donut-shaped magnet for the world's most powerful magnetic resonance image scanner for human research. Its installation follows nine years of research and development by Dr. Sadek K. Hilal, then director of neuroradiology and one of a handful of people considered to be the most influential in advancing imaging science and radiology during the past fifty years.

Neuroscience Institute researchers receive the first NIH grant to evaluate fetal brain transplants in treating Parkinson's Disease. In 1998, Dr. Timothy A. Pedley is named Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Columbia and Neurologist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian.  Neural development is transformed from a descriptive to a molecular discipline by Drs.Gerald Fischbach, Jack McMahan, Tom Jessell, and Corey Goodman. Neuroimaging is applied to problems of human cognition, including perception, attention, and memory.


In the year 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel receives the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research leading to our understanding the molecular basis of memory. 

Columbia establishes the Neural Stem Cell Center to advance the role of cell-replacement therapies for treatment of Parkinson disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease), stroke, and other disorders where the nervous system deteriorates because of injury or disease.

NIH awards Morris K. Udall Center for Parkinson's Disease Research to Dr. Stanley Fahn and Columbia. Dr. Fahn is renowned for his work in Parkinson's disease and movement disorders, including codirecting the first controlled surgical trial for fetal tissue transplantation for patients with advanced PD and participating in the development of rating scales for Parkinson's disease, dystonia, tremor, and Huntington's disease.

The Taub Institute for Alzheimer's Disease Research is established under the direction of Drs. Richard Mayeux and Michael Shelanski.  The Institute investigates methods for identifying individuals at risk for Alzheimer's disease and new therapies to prevent or delay disorders of the aging brain.

Dr. Richard Axel receives the Nobel Price in Medicine in 2004 for studies defining the molecular basis of olfaction.

Drs. Salvatore Di Mauro, Stanley Fahn, Richard Mayeux and Lewis P. Rowland are elected to the Institute of Medicine. New members are chosen for their high standard of scientific integrity and for their major contributions to health and medicine or related fields. To date, 41 Columbia faculty have been elected to the Institute.

In March 2004, the Kavli Foundation announces a $7.5 million award to establish a Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, M.D., University Professor of Psychiatry, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biophysiology. To date, the foundation has established nine Kavli Institutes internationally in the areas of neuroscience, cosmology, and nanoscience.

November 2005 - Columbia  establishes the Center for Motor Neuron Biology and Disease to accelerate the discovery of medical advances for SMA, a devastating disease that is the number one genetic killer of infants and toddlers.

February 2006 - Columbia University is awarded up to $15 million from the Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Foundation.  The grant funds activities by Columbia’s newly established Center for Motor Neuron Biology and Disease to accelerate the discovery of medical advances for SMA.

March 2006 - Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announces plans to  establish The Jerome L. Greene Science Center; a new research and teaching facility that will serve as the intellectual home for Columbia's expanding initiative in Mind, Brain and Behavior. The Center is made possible by a gift from Dawn M. Greene and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, to honor her late  husband, Jerome L. Greene ( Columbia College '26, Columbia Law School '28),  a prominent New York lawyer, real estate investor and philanthropist. Currently valued at more than $200 million, the gift is the largest ever received by Columbia University. It is also the largest private gift received by any U.S.  university for the creation of a single facility. The Center will be led by  the renowned neurobiologist Dr. Thomas Jessell, and Nobel laureates Dr. Richard Axel and Dr. Eric Kandel.