Trainee Spotlight

Matthias Stangl

Dr. Matthias Stangl is a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Dr. Nanthia Suthana at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. His work investigates how we keep track of where we are, how our brain represents the environment we are in, and how other people are integrated into our ‘cognitive map’ of the environment during social experiences. Spatial navigation is one of the most fundamental behaviors in both humans and non-human animals, and deficits in navigational functions are among the hallmark symptoms of severe neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding how the human brain encodes spatial information about the environment, is thus of critical importance for the development of therapies for affected patients.

Dr. Stangl’s PhD work at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases has identified a maladaptive neural noise that accumulates during navigation, and demonstrated that this noise is a major cause of error that can corrupt positional computations in the aging brain. Most recently, his postdoctoral work at UCLA has led to the groundbreaking discovery of a neural mechanism in the human brain to keep track of other people, which has received enthusiastic reactions from both the scientific community as well as non-scientific media. In addition to his empirical research contributions, he has developed novel software tools to perform complex analyses of spatial representations in neuroimaging data, and shared the details of his technologies via open source publications, which has already led to several high-impact publications by research groups around the world that use his developed methodologies. His ability to collaborate and support studies beyond his own have led to co-author publications that benefit the entire field, such as the development of a novel platform for deep brain recording and stimulation in humans who have implanted brain electrodes. Moreover, he has established collaborations with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), and serves as a co-investigator on prestigious projects to characterize neurocognitive consequences of space flight in astronauts, and to identify the neurobehavioral risks associated with future exploratory space missions and their mitigation. The significance of his postdoctoral work was recently acknowledged by the esteemed UCLA Chancellor’s Award for Postdoctoral Research.

Dr. Stangl has contributed to the publication of over 13 research articles and book chapters in the field of spatial navigation and aging research, including work in prestigious journals such as Nature, Nature Communications, Neuron, and Current Biology. His long-term research goal is to establish a fundamental understanding of how the human brain processes and encodes spatial information, and to characterize the neural causes and behavioral consequences of malfunctions in these systems.

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