Eric I. Knudsen

Stanford University

Primary Section: 28, Systems Neuroscience
Membership Type: Member (elected 2002)


Dr. Knudsen received his PhD from the University of California, San Diego in 1976 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology in 1979. He joined the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University as an assistant professor in 1979, became a full professor in 1988, and served as Chair of the Department from 2000-2005. His research has focused on strategies of information processing in the central nervous system, neural mechanisms of learning during development and in adulthood, and neural mechanisms of selective attention. Dr. Knudsen has received a number of honors and awards, including the Peter Gruber Prize, the Troland Research Award, and election to the National Academies of Science and the American Philosophical Society.

Research Interests

I am a neuroscientist interested in the neural basis of behavior. My research focuses on strategies of information processing and mechanisms of learning in the central auditory system. One of the primary functions of the auditory system is to determine the locations of sound stimuli in space. However, the location of a stimulus does not project directly onto the sensory surface of the ear. Therefore, the brain must derive stimulus location based on the evaluation of a variety of auditory cues. By studying the central auditory pathway in barn owls, my laboratory has discovered how the auditory system processes spatial cues to extract their meaning. We found that the brain can learn new interpretations of auditory spatial cues based on experience, especially experience that is gained prior to sexual maturation. We identified sites in the brain where the learning takes place, and we explored the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the learning, including changes in functional properties, anatomy and pharmacology. Our current research investigates the effects of early learning on the capacity for plasticity in the adult brain, mechanisms that account for the decline in plasticity with age, and strategies to increase brain plasticity in adult animals.

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