Dr. Michael Yartsev, who completed his Ph.D. in Nachum Ulanovsky's lab at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and joined the Princeton Neuroscience Institute as a Starr Fellow in Carlos Brody's lab in December 2012, has been awarded two prestigious prizes: SFN's 2013 2013 Donald B. Lindsley Prize in Behavioral Neuroscience, and Science Magazine's 2013 Eppendorf Prize in Neurobiology ( Eppendorf and Science Prize for Neurobiology ). In the first part of his doctoral work that led to these awards, Michael and his colleagues recorded, for the first time, from entorhinal cortex cells of crawling bats. Neural responses in this area are thought to be crucial for spatial navigation. Michael found that the bat cells displayed the same fascinating hexagonal grid spatial fields that have been described in rats. A prominent model proposes that these fields are created through interfering theta rhythms. However, Michael found that, unlike rats, the grid patterns in bats existed with a negligible contribution from theta rhythms, thus showing that grid cells can in fact exist without theta oscillations.
In the second part of his doctoral work that led to these awards, Michael and his colleagues developed methods to record from neurons in flying bats, and reported for the first time on the nature of place cells in the hippocampus of flying animals. They found that the firing fields of single hippocampal neurons were confined to highly localized 3D volumes. These firing fields were roughly isotropic, and as a population, spanned the entirety of the volume that is the bat's arena in the experiment. Finally, the firing patterns of the 3D place cells were not-rhytmic which led to the conclusion that the mammalian hippocampus represents 3D space by a uniform and nearly isotropic rate code.
Michael was also previously awarded three other prizes, these from the International Society for Neuroethology: the 2012 Young Investigator Award, the 2012 Capranica Prize and the 2013 John F. Kennedy Prize from the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
At Princeton, Michael is carrying out research on neural mechanisms underlying decision-making.