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Photo of Charles Gerfen

Charles R Gerfen, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Research Topics

Dr. Gerfen studies the functional organization of the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia. The basal ganglia are involved in transforming activity in the cerebral cortex into directed behavior. Using neuroanatomical tracing techniques, he mapped the connections of the circuits of this system, characterizing the compartmental nature of the input-output organization of the striatum, which is the main nucleus of the basal ganglia. His work established that the D1 and D2 dopamine receptors are segregated into two main pathways within the basal ganglia circuits.  This finding forms a cornerstone of the predominant model of neurologic disorders affected by diseases of the basal ganglia, including movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, chorea, and dystonia, and mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression. Dr. Gerfen is a Co-Investigator on the Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT ) project, with Nat Heintz at Rockefeller University. This project provides transgenic mouse lines to the neuroscience research community with neuron specific expression of Cre recombinase. Over 200 Cre-driver lines have been characterized with expression limited to specific neuron types or specific brain regions ( ) . Characterization of these lines is provided on the lab website: .  Current work is focused on using BAC-Cre transgenic mouse lines to study the functional organization of the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia.



Dr. Gerfen received a B.A. from Amherst College and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. His doctoral research was on neural substrates of reward involving the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia. During a post-doctoral fellowship in the Laboratory of Max Cowan at the Salk Institute, he developed the PHA-L axonal tracing technique with Paul Sawchenko, which has been used in over 1000 papers. In 1983, Dr. Gerfen was recruited by Ed Evarts to the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at NIMH. He was tenured in 1988 and served as Chief of the Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience from 1995 to 2016. Dr. Gerfen is recognized as having established fundamental principles of the functional organization of the basal ganglia.

Selected Publications

Gerfen CR, Surmeier DJ (2011). Modulation of striatal projection systems by dopamine. Annu Rev Neurosci 34, 441-66. [Pubmed Link ]

Gerfen CR, Miyachi S, Paletzki R, Brown P (2002). D1 dopamine receptor supersensitivity in the dopamine-depleted striatum results from a switch in the regulation of ERK1/2/MAP kinase. J Neurosci 22, 5042-54.. [Pubmed Link ]

Gerfen CR, Paletzki R, Heintz N (2013). GENSAT BAC cre-recombinase driver lines to study the functional organization of cerebral cortical and basal ganglia circuits. Neuron 80, 1368-83. [Pubmed Link ]

Hooks BM, Papale AE, Paletzki RF, Feroze MW, Eastwood BS, Couey JJ, Winnubst J, Chandrashekar J, Gerfen CR (2018). Topographic precision in sensory and motor corticostriatal projections varies across cell type and cortical area. Nat Commun 9, 3549. [Pubmed Link ]

Gerfen CR (2023). Segregation of D1 and D2 dopamine receptors in the striatal direct and indirect pathways: An historical perspective. Front Synaptic Neurosci 14, 1002960. [Pubmed Link ]

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